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Ravens’ Bye Week Leaves Them Refreshed and Ready for Playoff Opener Against Texans

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OWINGS MILLS, Md. (AP) — Leave it to Roquan Smith, Baltimore’s chatty linebacker, to put the enormity of the postseason into words.

“I don’t feel pressure at all, but some do say pressure bursts pipes and makes diamonds,” Smith said. “I know a lot of guys in there like diamonds, so I would say we’re in a diamond-making business.”

With their first postseason matchup finally set — it’s Saturday against Houston — the Ravens are now back in their game week routine. They practiced Tuesday — indoors, with the outdoor fields at the team facility covered in snow — and it appears they’ll be a lot closer to full strength after enjoying a first-round bye.

Cornerback Marlon Humphrey missed practice with a calf injury, but aside from that, Baltimore seems about as healthy as could be expected. Tight end Mark Andrews, who is still on injured reserve but was designated to return last week, has clearly made a lot of progress from his November ankle injury.

“I think today was his best showing so far,” coach John Harbaugh said. “So that’s encouraging. We’ll just have to see how it goes.”

Linebacker Del’Shawn Phillips (shoulder) and receiver Tylan Wallace (knee) both missed practice Tuesday. Receiver Zay Flowers (calf) and linebackers Odafe Oweh (ankle) and Malik Harrison (groin) were limited.

The Ravens weren’t sure who they’d be playing this week until Pittsburgh lost on Monday in a game pushed back a day because of snow in the Buffalo area. Only then did the Baltimore-Houston game become official for Saturday, but having one fewer day to rest shouldn’t be a huge issue for either team. The Ravens didn’t play last weekend, and Houston’s first-round win over Cleveland was on Saturday, so the Texans will have a normal amount of time between games.

Baltimore clearly looked the part of a Super Bowl contender in December when the Ravens swept through a grueling stretch of games against the Rams, Jaguars, 49ers and Dolphins. There was some wear and tear, though.

All-Pro safety Kyle Hamilton missed the Miami game with a knee injury. So did guard Kevin Zeitler (knee/quad) and cornerback Brandon Stephens (ankle). Hamilton and Zeitler were also held out of the regular-season finale against Pittsburgh — along with Humphrey and Flowers — after Baltimore had wrapped up the top seed in the AFC.

The question now is whether that Week 18 loss to the Steelers — in which star quarterback Lamar Jackson didn’t play either — followed by a first-round bye might have slowed the Ravens’ momentum.

“I believe we were getting into a groove,” Jackson said. “But it is what it is. Coach Harbaugh still made us practice like we were preparing for a game, so I believe we will still be ready.”

And given Baltimore’s injury situation down the stretch, the benefits of the weekend off presumably outweigh the costs.

“I think the mental rest was valuable. You work hard to get that bye,” Harbaugh said. “I don’t think anybody’s ever requested not to have the bye when they’ve earned it, have they? It’s definitely a positive, and I know our guys looked at it that way.”

The Ravens are trying to avoid a repeat of the 2019 season, when they went 14-2 but then lost their postseason opener at home to Tennessee. There are, of course, a limited number of players left in Baltimore who were on that team — but everyone can understand the single-elimination nature of the playoffs.

Receiver Odell Beckham Jr. had never played in a playoff victory until two seasons ago, when he won a Super Bowl with the Los Angeles Rams. And he injured his knee so badly in that Super Bowl he didn’t play again until joining the Ravens in 2023.

He’s certainly not one to take another postseason opportunity for granted.

“You only have four or five days guaranteed left,” Beckham said. “Everything else after that, you’ve earned. I don’t think anybody in this building takes it lightly.”

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AP NFL: https://apnews.com/hub/nfl

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