OWINGS MILLS, Md. – The Baltimore Ravens returned to the practice field Monday after a late-season break that appeared to rejuvenate a weary team in search of consistency.
Baltimore endured 10 straight weeks of football before reaching its long-awaited bye week.
"Our guys did a good job of pushing through," coach John Harbaugh said. "I thought we played hard and well right through to the end, which is challenging when you have a bye this late."
The Ravens beat Tennessee 21-7 before entering their bye. Upon their return, the players appeared "re-energized," Harbaugh said.
"Players took some time off and kind of emotionally and physically recharged a little bit," he said. "You don't realize how exhausted you are until you get a chance to take a deep breath and relax."
Even though the Ravens didn't play Sunday, they moved up in the muddled AFC North. Before Pittsburgh faced Tennessee on Monday night, Cincinnati led the division with a 6-3-1 record. The other three teams — Cleveland, Pittsburgh and Baltimore — were a half-game back at 6-4.
The Ravens probably need to go 4-2 over the final six weeks to return to the playoffs after last year's 8-8 misfire.
Baltimore next plays Monday night in New Orleans. The Saints are 4-6 after a 27-10 home loss to Cincinnati on Sunday.
Coming off a bye, the Ravens should be ready to go. After all, they got ample rest and the coaches had extra time to prepare for Saints quarterback Drew Brees and New Orleans' smothering defense.
Yet, there are times when teams come off a bye with a flat performance. For instance, the Titans offered little resistance against the Ravens two weeks ago, and the Washington Redskins were ineffective at home against last-place Tampa Bay on Sunday.
"It's a challenge, but we'd better not get into that situation," Harbaugh said. "We're going to have a tough environment. We're playing on Monday night in New Orleans, they're coming off two losses, they're a very proud team, very well coached, very talented. Great quarterback, aggressive defense.
"We're going to have our hands full and we'd better be ready to go. I'd like to think our guys understand that, but we'll find out Monday night."
Including this game, the combined record of Baltimore's remaining opponents is a mundane 28-32, with none of the teams better than 6-4 at this juncture. The lone division foe on the schedule is Cleveland in the finale.
During a bye in which the Baltimore coaching staff reviewed virtually every play of an up-and-down season, Harbaugh said there's plenty that can be improved upon offensively down the stretch.
"The turnovers is where it starts," he said. "Third down has been important to us. You go back two weeks ago, if we convert on third down, we're a whole different offense in Pittsburgh (Baltimore was 3 for 13 in a 43-23 loss). That would have been big for us."
That's not all.
Harbaugh said the team needs to score more touchdowns in the red zone and make more big plays.
Baltimore has a plus-1 turnover differential and ranks 19th in red zone percentage.
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