OWINGS MILLS, Maryland — During a season filled with suspensions, injuries and painful defeats, the Baltimore Ravens have calmly worked their way into the middle of the AFC playoff picture.
The suspension and subsequent release of running back Ray Rice in September was merely the first of many distractions the Ravens (8-5) endured to get where they are now: a half-game behind AFC North leader Cincinnati and in strong contention for a wild-card berth.
"You could ask for more, but boy, it's a great accomplishment to be in that position right now," coach John Harbaugh said Monday.
Coming off a deflating 34-33 home loss to San Diego, Baltimore rallied from an early 10-point deficit to beat Miami 28-13 on Sunday. That was the first of four games the Ravens will play without defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, who was suspended on Thursday for using the amphetamine Adderall.
Baltimore's depleted secondary took another severe hit in Miami when cornerback Danny Gorrer endured a season-ending knee injury. Gorrer was signed in November to fill a secondary that was already feeling the loss of Jimmy Smith (foot), Aaron Ross (heel) and Asa Jackson (toe).
The list of players who have sustained season-ending injuries includes starting tight end Dennis Pitta, Smith, Ross, defensive end Kapron Lewis-Moore and even long snapper Morgan Cox. In addition, left tackle Eugene Monroe, defensive end Chris Canty and cornerback Lardarius Webb each have missed significant time with injuries.
Little-used Kamar Aiken stepped in for Smith and had a career-high six catches for 65 yards and a touchdown.
"We have a brotherhood among receivers," Aiken said. "If we have one of our guys not going or not feeling too well, we're going to pick up the slack and we're not going to skip a beat."
The Ravens have also displayed the ability to bounce back from defeat. After losing twice to the Bengals and suffering a 43-23 embarrassment in Pittsburgh, it's a wonder the Ravens aren't already building for 2015.
"We've got a resilient bunch," Harbaugh said. "They're mentally tough, they don't get caught up in the noise, they don't get easily distracted. We say turn neither to the left or the right, eyes straight ahead."
"We've got some young guys that are headed in the right direction because of the mature guys around them that are leading and showing them the way," the coach said.
Harbaugh knew what kind of team he had on Sept. 11, when the Ravens beat Pittsburgh at home just two days after a video surfaced showing Rice punching his then-fiance in an elevator. The media swarmed the team facility — asking more questions about Rice than the Steelers — yet Baltimore deftly rebounded from a season-opening loss to Cincinnati.
Coming up strong in Miami after blowing a 10-point lead against the Chargers was equally important.
"It just took a lot out of us," receiver Steve Smith said of the San Diego loss. "But you can't sit there and throw a party if you won, and you can't throw a pity party if you lose. You just got to get back on the horse and just hold on."
The ride in the regular season will last three more weeks, beginning at home Sunday against Jacksonville (2-11). The Ravens will reach the postseason if they win out, no small feat given what they've gone through thus far.
"We could sit here and say we wish we'd be another game or two better, and we could say we're happy we're not a game or two worse," Harbaugh said. "We're pleased with the fact that we're in the hunt and control our own destiny. It's just our job to make the most of it."
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