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Ravens aren’t putting stock into ‘rest v. rust’ concerns

Players and coaches don’t believe they will lose their focus, intensity, or momentum over the next two weeks.

Baltimore Ravens v San Francisco 49ers Photo by Ryan Kang/Getty Images

There are several similarities between the 2019 Baltimore Ravens and this year’s team that are eerily familiar to their fan base and the national media. Both were the hottest team and widely viewed as the best in the league heading into the playoffs after winning the AFC North and clinching the No. 1 seed with home-field advantage in the playoffs with quarterback Lamar Jackson as the favorite to win MVP.

They’re even facing the same opponent in the regular season finale as they did five years ago in the Pittsburgh Steelers in the same venue under the exact same circumstances. The Ravens are starting a lot of their backups at home in a game against their division rivals who need to win and get some help to squeak into the postseason.

The last time the stars aligned in such a way ended in complete and utter failure in the form of an early playoff exit courtesy of a 28-12 loss to the Tennessee Titans. Countless in the media and even some of the Ravens players and coaches themselves pointed to all the excessive time off due to being in cruise control down the stretch in addition to having the first-round bye as the reason they came out flat and got beat on their home field.

While some view a first-round bye as a bad omen for the Ravens and are scared that they’ll be more rusty than well-rested when they take the field for the playoffs in the divisional round, the 2023 Ravens are confident they will stay locked in and are determined not to let history repeat itself.

“The way we practice, they’re ain’t going to be no rust,” inside linebacker Patrick Queen said Wednesday. “I know the stories about ‘19 and what happened. I think we’ve got the guys in this locker room that care and really want to prepare and go on this run. The rust thing, I think that’s totally just a mindset.”

Queen was drafted the offseason following the Ravens’ epic playoff disappointment and firmly believes that “If you truly want something, you going to go get it. You won’t let nothing stop you.”

The 2020 first-rounder is one of several players who are hungry on a team that has shown the ability to be able to overcome almost any form of adversity they may come across deeper into January and hopefully February. The word ‘mature’ and the term ‘locked in’ are repeatedly used to describe the 2023 Ravens who aren’t scared of the ghosts from failures past.

“Just keep my body moving around, staying locked in like we have all season,” Jackson said. “It’s a bye week, that’s all. I’m ready, I’m locked in, I’m prepared.”

The Ravens won’t deviate from the schedule that got them here and will practice and have their meetings at their normal times just without having to play a game on Wildcard Weekend.

As much as their gut-wrenching 2019 performance has been lamented in the years since the Ravens’ offense was able to move the ball well on the Titans and even racked up over 500 yards of total offense. However, they struggled to convert in the red zone and their defense eventually lost the war of attrition to a punishing run game led by four-time Pro Bowl running back and two-time league rushing champion Derrick Henry.

Looking back on that whole experience, Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh believed that his team practiced well and were in “good spirits” heading into and during the game.

“I think we had a good game plan,” Harbaugh said. “We just didn’t get the job done on certain plays. You just look at where you are with this team at this time and make the decisions that are best.”

The scar tissue and experience that this team has built up coupled with the steely-eyed and one-track-minded focus they get from their franchise quarterback has them locked in more than they’ve been since their last Super Bowl run in 2012.

“[Lamar]’s always had a single-minded focus, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen it quite like this,” Harbaugh said. “He’s been that way since the offseason when we talked, since he came to OTAs [organized team activities], since training camp, [he’s been] one day at a time, locked in. That’s kind of how he’s approached it. It’s been reflected in how he’s practiced and how he’s played.”

Given how many ascending and established veteran players are playing on either cheap one-year deals or are in the final year of their contract, this ride will certainly be the last time that this collection of talent and band of brothers will be together.

It doesn’t seem or sound like they will let the concern of being rusty or any potential opponent get in the way of them achieving their ultimate goal and being the last team left standing.

“2019 is over with,” Jackson said. “We’re always talking about it, I find myself talking about it. That was my first full season in the NFL. It’s a lot different mindset, different group of guys. We just couldn’t get it done that January. I strongly feel like this year, it will be different.”