Ravens using gut-wrenching pain to help gain playoff berth

OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- Mark Andrews wasn't around for last year's finale, when the Baltimore Ravens watched their playoff aspirations end on Tyler Boyd's fourth-down touchdown in the final seconds.

The rookie tight end, however, knows all about the most painful regular-season finish in franchise history.

"When [the rookies] got brought in here, it was something that was talked about," Andrews said. "It’s been talked about this whole time from players to coaches. It’s something that’s on everyone’s mind. We’re well aware of what happened last year. There are a lot of hungry guys in this locker room. I think that’s an important thing to have, is a bunch of guys working [toward] the same goal, and that’s what we’re doing."

The Ravens face the same scenario as last year entering Week 17: Win and get into the postseason.

Baltimore (9-6) needs to beat the Cleveland Browns (7-7-1) at M&T Bank Stadium to clinch its first AFC North title in six years and earn a home playoff game. The Ravens' projected chances are at 82.3 percent, the highest odds for a team not yet in the postseason.

But Ravens players understand more than anyone that there is no sure thing. Last season, Baltimore's playoff odds were at 96.6 percent before Boyd's 49-yard touchdown that came on fourth-and-12 with 44 seconds remaining.

"Definitely, last year doesn’t sit well with us," cornerback Brandon Carr said of the 31-27 loss to Cincinnati. "We had a prime opportunity to extend our season, and we failed at it. We didn’t finish the job, so that’s why this year, the art of finish is big for us. Just finding ways to win this game by any means necessary, emptying your tank, giving it your all, and then we’ll reload for next week once we get there."

Were there any lessons to be gained from last year's finale?

"Finish," Carr said.

That was just the latest heartbreaking defeat in December for Baltimore. In 2016, the Ravens would have been AFC North champions by winning out. In Week 16, Baltimore failed to stop Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown on a 4-yard touchdown with 9 seconds remaining in a 31-27 loss that eliminated the Ravens from the postseason.

"We all know where we’ve been. We don’t need to talk about anything. We all know," coach John Harbaugh said. "We’ve all learned from all of our past experiences this year, last year, previous years, all those things, the guys who have been here. The guys who were here, that drives us, certainly. When you have a gut-wrenching experience, a tough one like we had the last two years, you take those with you, and it makes you stronger."

Baltimore believes its defense is much stronger than it was in the previous two seasons. The Ravens’ defense is one game away from finishing No. 1 in the league for the second time in franchise history (the other time was 2006).

The Ravens have allowed the fewest points in the fourth quarter (48), and the defense has scored touchdowns in the final quarter in three of the past five games.

Baltimore could still reach the postseason if it loses to the Browns and the heavily favored Steelers lose at home to the Bengals. That's just not in the Ravens’ mindset right now.

"At the beginning of the season, if we say we control our destiny going into the last game, we can win the division, we’ve all signed up for that," Harbaugh said. "That’s the goal. So we’re excited about that, and now we get to play a championship game, and let’s go."