A second consecutive game against a struggling NFC North opponent might be what the Baltimore Ravens need to win consecutive games for the first time in nearly three months and remain in the mix for an AFC wild-card berth.
The Ravens look to build off their most complete effort of the season when they host the reeling Chicago Bears on Sunday.
The Ravens (7-6) are in the wild-card mix with Jacksonville, Miami, Denver and the New York Jets, but they have alternated wins and losses in their last seven contests. Baltimore hasn’t won consecutive games since opening 3-0.
Baltimore has a favorable final stretch to make that happen with Chicago (5-8) in town, followed by road games against slumping Pittsburgh and Oakland.
“If we don’t take of business against the Chicago Bears, first and foremost … it’s not going to matter what happens in those other games,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said.
The Ravens - 12-1 at home against NFC opponents since the start of the 2003 season - face a Bears team that’s lost seven of nine overall and four in a row on the road.
Rice, who’s rushed for 1,041 yards, could be in for another big game after gaining 200 total yards by halftime against the Lions. Chicago gives up 127.9 rushing yards per game, ranking 24th in the league.
Baltimore, which tied a franchise record for most points in a game last weekend, leads the league with an average margin of victory at 19.7 points.
Defensively, the Ravens are giving up 12.6 points per game while going 5-2 at home. They could get a big boost if star safety Ed Reed(notes) is able to return after missing the last two games with a hip injury.
“As many struggles, as many interceptions, it’s tough to go out there and throw the ball 20, 30, 40 times and be confident on every one,” said Cutler, who’s thrown three more interceptions than touchdowns in a disappointing first year with the Bears.
Cutler spent the last three seasons with Denver, but he’s never faced Baltimore. Despite that fact and Cutler’s struggles guiding an offense that’s averaging 14.6 points in its last six games, the Ravens are aware of his talent.
“We saw how he can make every throw. I just think as an identity for this team, they’re kind of up and down, what they’re going through, but I never expected Jay to have games like that because I always respected his talent,” said Baltimore linebacker Ray Lewis(notes), Cutler’s teammate on last season’s AFC Pro Bowl team.
It’s possible Cutler won’t have leading receiver Devin Hester(notes) (54 receptions, 682 yards) for a second consecutive game due to a calf injury. Hester’s uncertain status didn’t stop him from voicing his opinion about the future of a Bears’ franchise that will miss the playoffs for a third straight year since losing to Indianapolis in Super Bowl XLI.
“There will be a lot of changes, I know that for a fact, and I hope it’s for the better. … Everybody sees it,” Hester said. “There are going to be a lot of new players in probably, and some other things change around here.”
Coach Lovie Smith and offensive coordinator Ron Turner drew further scrutiny against the Packers as the Bears committed 13 penalties and Smith used back-to-back time-outs late in the game when a challenge on an incomplete pass failed.
“When you are 5-8, guys are frustrated, like we all are,” Smith said. “We all need to just focus on Baltimore.”
Chicago is 2-1 against the Ravens, losing 17-6 in its only road appearance in the series Sept. 9, 2001.