Live from Owings Mills: Heap a game-time decision as Ravens eye playoff spot


OWINGS MILLS, Md. –With a festive mood surrounding the training complex at 1 Winning Drive, the Ravens were making final preparations for Sunday’s showdown in Cleveland.
Despite the Pittsburgh Steelers maintaining control of the AFC North with a convincing victory over Carolina Thursday, the Ravens will clinch their third straight playoff berth with a victory over the 5-9 Browns, losers of four of their last six.
Tight end Todd Heap practiced for the third straight day, an indication that the veteran will have a realistic chance to play Sunday after missing the last two games with a hamstring injury. He was seen running pass patterns during the portion of practice open to the media on Friday and is listed as questionable on the team’s official injury report.
“I think he’s done really well. He just told me he felt very good [after Friday’s practice],” coach John Harbaugh said. “I think we’ll wait until game time, just to see for sure and see how it feels up there with the weather and everything and make a decision right before the game.”
The Ravens have been cautious with their starting tight end, given his history of hamstring issues during his 10-year career. Heap has taken reps throughout the week, but described the recovery as having “ups and downs.”
“I’m feeling better,” Heap said. “I’d say it’s a day-to-day thing. It’s a long process. We’ll take it up to game day, and we’ll see how it feels.”
Brendon Ayanbadejo (knee) and Haruki Nakamura (illness) returned to the practice field after missing Thursday’s workout. However, David Reed (concussion) and Tom Zbikowski (back) were absent for the third straight day and have been ruled out for Sunday’s game. Joining them as non-participants in Friday’s practice were cornerback Chris Carr (illness) and defensive end Cory Redding (elbow). Carr is listed as questionable for Sunday’s game while Redding is probable.
Reed has not cleared the battery of concussion tests that would allow him to return to the field, according to Harbaugh.
Zbikowski is suffering from a bulging disc in his back and was treated with cortisone earlier in the week. The team remains optimistic that he could return this season since he is not experiencing any pain or numbness radiating in his legs, according to the Ravens coach.
Derrick Mason (ankle) was a full participant after being listed as limited on Thursday.
Reed’s absence leaves a hole in the kick return game after the rookie had finally stabilized the spot after poor production earlier in the season. Jalen Parmele would be the likely candidate to replace Reed, as he did last week against the New Orleans Saints, but Lardarius Webb has also returned kicks in practice this week and shined in the role last season.
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Festivus becoming an annual occurrence
Despite the Festivus holiday technically falling on Thursday (the contrived holiday made famous by Seinfeld), Baltimore has long used the term for a Ravens playoff appearance. A win on Saturday would mark the third straight year the Ravens have qualified for the postseason, something that’s never happened in the 15-year history of the franchise.
Younger players like Joe Flacco and Ray Rice might view the postseason as a birthright, but veterans know a playoff spot should never be taken for granted.
“Playoffs, no matter how long you play, anything can happen,” said nose tackle Kelly Gregg, an 11-year veteran who’s experienced the highs and lows in Baltimore over the last decade. “A lot of these young guys think it can happen every year, but it doesn’t go like that. You better take the opportunity now.”
Of course, a division title — and a first-round bye — would further sweeten the pot, but the Ravens must win their final two games and hope the Browns can upset the Steelers in Cleveland next Sunday.
“We’re still alive in the AFC North, and that’s the way we have to play it,” Gregg said. “Until they say we can’t win, we just have to keep chugging along and get in the playoffs [with a win on Sunday].”
Peeking at Pittsburgh
Harbaugh was asked if he watched the Steelers’ Thursday night game against the Panthers, and his thoughts were likely shared by the many Ravens fans who watched Pittsburgh’s 27-3 blowout victory.
“I watched a little bit of it, then I checked in on the score, and then I lost interest,” said Harbaugh, drawing laughs from the media gathered in Owings Mills. “Hey, that was good for them. They got it done, and congratulations to them. We just move forward, now it’s our turn. We have to step up.”
Jersey swap
The main purpose of the portion of practice open to the media is typically to get an early read on who’s participating before the official injury report is released in the afternoon.
So the appearance of a player wearing a Zbikowski jersey created a brief stir among the few media members present for Friday’s practice, especially considering talk that the reserve safety might be done for the season. However, a closer look showed it was not the Notre Dame product after all.
A number of players had swapped jerseys in what has become a fun tradition for the team, but a sometimes frustrating one for the media. Among those who had swapped numbers included Haloti Ngata and Dawan Landry, Ray Lewis and Jarret Johnson, and, of course, Terrell Suggs sporting Sam Koch’s No. 4 jersey.
Injury report
RAVENS: OUT – S Tom Zbikowski (back), WR David Reed (head) QUESTIONABLE – TE Todd Heap (leg), CB Chris Carr (illness) PROBABLE – LB Brendon Ayanbadejo (knee), C Matt Birk (knee), WR Derrick Mason (ankle), OL Tony Moll (illness), S Haruki Nakamura (illness), LB Jason Phillips (illness), DE Cory Redding (elbow), WR Marcus Smith (shoulder)
BROWNS: DOUBTFUL – TE Robert Royal (shoulder) QUESTIONABLE – LB Eric Alexander (shoulder), DL Kenyon Coleman (knee), DL Shaun Rogers (ankle/hip) PROBABLE – LB Marcus Bernard (shoulder), DB Sheldon Brown (shoulder), WR Josh Cribbs (foot), RB Peyton Hillis (knee), QB Colt McCoy (illness), WR Chansi Stuckey (thigh), OL John St. Clair (ankle), OL Floyd Womack (knee)