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OWINGS MILLS, Md. – The Baltimore Ravens navigated their way through the Ray Rice saga and overcame a series of injuries to put together a three-game winning streak that provides them with a measure of momentum entering their roughest stretch of the season.
Baltimore owns a 3-1 record at the quarter-pole, no small accomplishment for a team without its best cornerback and starting left tackle.
Not only that, but the Ravens endured the firestorm surrounding the release of a video on Sept. 8 showing Rice, their starting running back, striking his then-fiancee in a casino elevator.
Rice was subsequently cut by Baltimore and his two-game suspension was extended to indefinite by the NFL.
The Ravens were criticized for the way they handled the situation before the video was released, leaving owner Steve Bisciotti to explain himself in front of the media on Sept. 22.
Exactly one week later, coach John Harbaugh proudly spoke about his team's resiliency.
"I would have to say that I was impressed with it before all this came about," Harbaugh said. "Sometimes they say football reveals character. It's galvanized us in some ways. We've been through a fire. It either makes you or breaks you. I feel good about that."
Playing for the third time in four games without cornerback Lardarius Webb and using undrafted rookie James Hurst at left tackle, the Ravens defeated Carolina 38-10 Sunday.
With Rice out of the mix, Harbaugh alternated Justin Forsett and rookie Lorenzo Taliaferro, who combined for 124 yards rushing and two touchdowns.
Harbaugh and the Ravens can only hope the trend continues this Sunday in Indianapolis, which begins a stretch of four road games in five weeks.
"The challenge is you've got to go play another team in their environment," Harbaugh said. "That takes an incredible amount of discipline and poise."
The Ravens have displayed both those qualities thus far this season. They've been called for only 16 penalties in four games, haven't allowed a sack during their winning streak and have outscored the opposition 87-37 since their opening-day loss to Cincinnati.
After Baltimore rolled up 454 yards against the Panthers, quarterback Joe Flacco was asked if this was how he expected the offense to look under new coordinator Gary Kubiak.
"It would be great to be able to play like this every week," he said. "I think that we have the ability to do it. It's not like we're doing anything complicated out there. We're going out, and we're playing football and doing what we're supposed to do. I'd say, yes, this is what it's supposed to look like, and we just have to make sure to continue to do it."
Flacco was sacked 48 times last season. This year, he's been dumped just three times. The loss of left tackle Eugene Monroe was supposed to test the offensive line, but Hurst proved to be an adequate replacement.
"It was what we were hoping for," Harbaugh said. "I don't feel like we had a real sense of concern. We had seen James in practice. I don't think any of us felt like there would be any bid drop-off. He was kind of invisible."
If there's been one shortcoming on the offense, it's that Jacoby Jones has only three catches and more than twice as many drops.
"I think he's pressing, I really do," Harbaugh said. "Jacoby's got a lot of pride. He made big, big plays in this league before and he wants to pick up where he left off. It hasn't happened for him. The key is persistence. Keep hammering. Don't get down on yourself."
Webb, meanwhile, was inactive Sunday for the third time in four weeks. He missed the entire preseason with a back injury and still hasn't worked his way back.
"They tell me that he's healthy now and he says he feels healthy. It's just a matter of that strength and quickness and burst, which should come back fast," Harbaugh said. "It very well could be this week. I'm sure hoping it's this week. I want to see it this week, and we'll be shooting for that."
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