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OWINGS MILLS, Md. – John Harbaugh can't deny it: The defending Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens are in a dire situation after losing three straight to fall into third place in the AFC North.
"As it stands, we're in a tough spot," Harbaugh acknowledged Monday, less than 24 hours after Baltimore lost to Cleveland 24-18 on Sunday.
The Ravens (3-5) hoped their bye-week would enable them to correct many of the flaws that plagued them earlier in the season. Against Cleveland, however, very little changed. Baltimore still couldn't get its running game going, allowed five sacks and failed to come up with the necessary plays required to win a close game.
If things don't improve, Harbaugh's streak of reaching the playoffs in five straight seasons will end. Fortunately for the Ravens, they're only halfway through their schedule.
"I know we have what it takes to be a very good football team the second half of the season," Harbaugh said. "What we do in the first half does not determine what we do in the second half. We have opportunities to accomplish everything that we want to accomplish."
The Ravens have two games left against the division-leading Cincinnati Bengals, the first of which is Sunday in Baltimore. A victory would improve the Ravens' playoff outlook and reverse their negative momentum.
"You've got to be positive, you have to keep your head and your eyes forward, and that's what we're going to do," quarterback Joe Flacco said.
Of course, that's precisely what the Ravens did before losing to Green Bay, Pittsburgh and Cleveland in succession.
"We've got to win a game. Then once you do that, you get a chance to build on that," Harbaugh said. "Over the course of the last three weeks, we just haven't been good enough to get that done."
The biggest problem on Sunday, as it has been all season, was the lack of a running attack. Ray Rice, who ran for at least 1,000 yards in the previous four seasons, has 259 at the midpoint after being limited to 17 yards on 11 carries in Cleveland.
Flacco, with 25 yards, was Baltimore's leading rusher against the Browns.
"Cleveland played us in a run defense pretty much the whole game," Harbaugh said. "We've got to get them out of that run defense. I mean, that's our job. To do that, we've got to be good and precise in the passing game. We've got to open up that coverage a little bit and force them to back off."
It didn't happen against the Browns, who limited Flacco to 24-for-41 passing for 250 yards and an interception.
Flacco was 11-0 against Cleveland before that defeat. So was Harbaugh.
Left guard Kelechi Osemele, who missed Sunday's game with a bad back, will be placed on injured reserve.
"He's headed to IR," Harbaugh said. "He's working right now with the doctors and with his representative to find out what type of surgery he wants to do, what doctor is the best person to do it."
Harbaugh the recovery time is three to four months. Osemele was replaced Sunday by A.Q. Shipley.
In spite of it all, the Ravens still have a shot at the postseason. Not only is the second wild-card spot in the AFC is up for grabs, but Baltimore can move within a game of the Bengals in the loss column with a victory on Sunday.
"We need to go stack some wins," Harbaugh said. "Cincinnati is leading the division, so this is an opportunity for us."
AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org