- Associated Press - Monday, November 1, 2010

OWINGS MILLS, Md. | The bye week couldn’t have worked out much better for the Baltimore Ravens, who were rejuvenated by the mini-vacation and climbed into a first-place tie in the AFC North without even breaking a sweat.

The Ravens returned to practice Monday after receiving time off during the latter part of last week. Many of the players, and coach John Harbaugh, spent a rare lazy Sunday watching NFL games on television.

“I watched a half-hour of the Miami game and I had to turn it off. I’m not really fond of listening to commentators,” cornerback Chris Carr said.

Baltimore went into the break with a 5-2 record, and now that’s good enough for a share of the division lead after Pittsburgh lost to New Orleans on Sunday night. Both teams still have nine games left, so it’s probably a little too early to get excited about the standings and potential playoff scenarios.

“It’s all great, but it doesn’t mean anything on Nov. 1,” center Matt Birk said. “If you play good football, you’re in control. We’ll just prepare and practice like we always do and we’ll see what happens.”

Practice was just a little more spirited than usual Monday because the players weren’t sore and tired. The session also had the feel of a reunion because, prior to the bye, they had been together on virtually a daily basis since training camp in July.

“We were fresh and excited to be out there,” Carr said. “I told a few of them, ‘I actually miss you guys.’”

Baltimore next faces Miami (4-3) at home on Sunday. At that point, the Ravens will be able to determine for sure if the bye was a good thing.

“Hopefully we took advantage of it in the right way,” Harbaugh said. “Anytime you’ve had some days off, it’s a lot different than it would have been if we had played a game. Yeah, there’s going to be a benefit there. It’s something that’s important. Hopefully we can take advantage of it, like some teams do after the bye.”

Before the break, the Ravens played two straight opponents coming off the bye. New England won 23-20 in overtime, and winless Buffalo gave Baltimore fits before falling 37-34 in overtime.

As they prepare for the final three months of the season, the Ravens control their own fate. Only the Patriots (6-1) own a better record within the AFC, and Baltimore has beaten two of the three other teams now sitting at 5-2.

“Obviously we feel like we’re in a good position,” Carr said. “But we need to know that it doesn’t matter. It’s how you finish that really matters, because teams get better throughout the season. If you’re not one of those teams you’re going to get left out.”

The time off enabled some of the players to heal, and it also enabled wide receiver Derrick Mason to have surgery on his right little finger.

“It was something I needed. I couldn’t go the whole season without it,” Mason said. “I played two games with it, so I figured the best time to get it fixed now was the bye week so I could get some extra days to rest and allow the swelling to go down.

“They put a pin in,” he said. “Hopefully it will be good for Sunday — I know it will — but if not we’ll just tape it up and go.”

The break also proved beneficial to wide receiver Donte’ Stallworth, who has not played this season because of a broken left foot. He practiced Monday and could make his Baltimore debut against the Dolphins.

Birk’s atypical Sunday was spent with his family. He went to a playground and accompanied his children around the neighborhood for trick-or-treat.

“Oh, it was wild,” he said with a grin.

Now it’s back to work for Birk and the Ravens until sometime in 2011.

“Coming off the bye week we have a clear understanding of what we have to do, and that’s take care of business,” tight end Todd Heap said. “We’re in a good position right now, but it doesn’t mean anything if we don’t come out and play well this week.”


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