- The Washington Times - Friday, November 14, 2008

The four consecutive wins, three on the road. The surprising 6-3 record, good for a first-place tie in the AFC North. The rugged run defense, best in the NFL. The quarterback play, which is coming from a rookie.

John Harbaugh doesn’t want to hear it and certainly doesn’t want to talk about it.

“The ranking questions, the comparison questions, the big-picture questions - I haven’t even thought about those things,” the Baltimore Ravens‘ first-year coach said. “I have no idea.”

But if the Ravens can make it five straight and complete a three-game road swing with a win over the 8-1 New York Giants on Sunday, Harbaugh will continue to be asked about the Ravens’ turnaround from a team that limped to a 5-11 record last year and appeared headed for another losing season when Indianapolis thumped them 31-3 last month.

The loss was Baltimore’s third straight after a 2-0 start. The Ravens regrouped, and when Pittsburgh lost to the Colts last week, Baltimore’s win over Houston elevated it to a tie for the division lead.

Even though the Ravens have the NFL’s third-best running game (150.2 yards a game) and top-ranked run defense (65.4), their remaining schedule is daunting. Their opponents are a combined 35-28, and the Ravens play the entire NFC East plus Pittsburgh and Jacksonville.

“The Giants are 8-1, and they’re playing some great football, and we’re just trying to get over the hump,” linebacker Ray Lewis said. “I don’t see it as a big test. I just see it as the next game.”

The fact the Ravens have passed several tests already this year is a surprise considering Harbaugh is a new coach, Cam Cameron introduced a new offense, Joe Flacco - the first-round pick from Delaware - is the starting quarterback and 16 players have been placed on injured reserve, including four starters.

Yet again, Baltimore’s defense paces the team. The unit, which has 14 interceptions, is led by Lewis’ 63 tackles and Terrell Suggs’ five sacks. The defense has allowed the fewest rushing yards in the league and is the NFL’s best on third down and in the red zone. It also is second in yards a game and fifth in points a game.

“If you want to play fun football, you have to do the dirty work first and stop the run so we can get after the quarterback, [get] interceptions and all those types of things,” defensive tackle Trevor Pryce said. “You have to stop the run, and we’ve been good at it around here for a long time.”

The Ravens’ offense has held up its end the last four weeks. Baltimore has averaged 170.2 yards rushing the past four games, which means Flacco isn’t under constant pressure to make plays. For the season, the Ravens have 98 more rushes than pass attempts.

Flacco rebounded from losses to Tennessee and Indianapolis (five combined interceptions) to throw six touchdowns without an interception during the four-game winning streak. The Ravens have averaged 33.5 points in those victories.

“There are definitely things I’m doing better,” Flacco said. “As a whole offensive group, we’re doing better. From Day 1, I always felt like I saw things well and was going to the right place with the ball.”

Leading the team is Harbaugh, a longtime special teams coordinator and defensive backs coach with Philadelphia. Like his former boss Andy Reid, he’s not into looking back or ahead.

“You can get upset with us with the ‘one week at a time’ deal and other cliches,” Harbaugh said. “But they’re [cliches] for a reason - because they’re true.”

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