Though the Baltimore Ravens' plans for an AFC North championship suffered a setback last week, they still appear poised for a fifth consecutive postseason appearance.
But after struggling against a journeyman quarterback, they'll have to slow down rookie phenom Robert Griffin III on Sunday as he tries to help the Washington Redskins end a five-year playoff drought.
The Ravens will secure a playoff berth with a win and can also clinch the division with a victory and losses by Cincinnati and Pittsburgh.
Coach John Harbaugh's squad missed a chance to wrap up a playoff spot last Sunday with a 23-20 home loss to the archrival Steelers. It ended Baltimore's 15-game win streak at home since also falling to Pittsburgh on Dec. 5, 2010, but the Ravens (9-3) still own a two-game lead in the division.
"We still are on course," Harbaugh said. "We have an opportunity to accomplish our first and foremost objective - I wouldn't say the most important objective, but the first objective on the agenda - which is to win the division. That's something that we need to do.
"And the idea of the high seed in the playoffs is still in front of us, too. So we're going to be working hard to get those things done."
Baltimore will have to accomplish those goals under a challenging schedule, which will see it end the season against Washington (6-6), Denver, the Giants and Cincinnati - all teams at .500 or better.
Those games will see them match up against quarterbacks Griffin, Peyton and Eli Manning and Andy Dalton. It's a slope that appears steeper considering the Ravens couldn't slow down Charlie Batch, Pittsburgh's 38-year-old third-stringer who completed 25 of 36 passes for 276 yards last weekend.
Baltimore took a 20-13 lead into the fourth quarter before the Steelers gained 138 yards in the final period, led by two scoring drives engineered by Batch.
"They were just hitting us in the right spots," linebacker Paul Kruger told the Ravens' official website. "They were finding the weaknesses in our defense. It just seemed like we couldn't get in a good rhythm."
If Batch could exploit weaknesses in the Ravens' defense, which ranks 23rd against the pass at 246.5 yards per game, Griffin could be in for a big day.
Griffin is coming off a Hall-of-Fame performance - literally. The Hall collected the jersey and cleats worn by Griffin in Monday night's 17-16 home win over the Giants in which he broke the single-season record for yards rushing by a rookie quarterback.
Griffin ran for 72 yards on five carries, bringing his total to 714 and eclipsing the record of 706 set last year by Carolina's Cam Newton.
He was also 13 of 21 for 163 yards and a touchdown, posting a triple-digit passer rating for the sixth time as Washington pulled within a game of New York for the NFC East lead.
The Redskins, who haven't made the playoffs since the 2007 season, were 3-6 and coach Mike Shanahan mentioned evaluating players for the future before they reeled off three straight victories against divisional foes. Griffin has completed 73.0 percent of his passes with nine touchdowns and an interception while posting a rating of 140.0 over those games.
The No. 2 overall pick in April's draft not only heard chants of "RG3" during Monday's victory, he also heard them throughout the Washington Wizards' upset of the Miami Heat as he sat courtside Tuesday.
"The kid's special," Washington cornerback DeAngelo Hall said. "He's on the verge of being a rock star. We used to travel with Mike Vick when I was in Atlanta, and it was definitely a rock-star-type atmosphere wherever he went. And RG is having that same kind of following."
Baltimore might have to face Griffin without one of its best defensive players after Terrell Suggs tore his right biceps last Sunday. Suggs, who has 19 tackles and two sacks in six games after missing the first six weeks recovering from a torn Achilles tendon, said he'll be a game-time decision.
"We got to see how it goes," Suggs said. "We kind of live by the creed of, if you can breathe, then you can play."
The Ravens may have gotten an emotional lift with Ray Lewis' return to practice Wednesday, but he still isn't eligible to play until Dec. 16 against Denver.
They will also have to compete against the NFL's top rushing attack, led by rookie Alfred Morris' 92.2 yards per game. Morris, the Redskins' first 1,000-yard rusher since Clinton Portis in 2008, has run for over 100 yards in each of the last two games for a Washington team averaging 167.2 yards on the ground.
"He's a young kid who's very humble and talented," Redskins linebacker Lorenzo Alexander said. "He's been chipping away all year - pounding away - and never feeling like he's getting fatigued."
Baltimore has won three of four all-time meetings.
The Associated Press News Service
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