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By Lyle Fitzsimmons, Contributing NFL Editor
(SportsNetwork.com) - They're the defending Super Bowl champions, but the Baltimore Ravens find themselves in the unlikely position of having to pursue the New York Jets.
At 4-6 through 10 games, the Ravens are smothered in a six-team AFC pileup that's collectively on a quest to reel in the Jets, who enter Week 12 in possession of a 5-5 record and the conference's final postseason wild card slot on the way to a Sunday visit to M&T Bank Stadium.
Baltimore did itself no favors in a Week 11 loss at Chicago, its fourth loss of the season by three or fewer points and fifth of the year by a touchdown or less. Only one of the Ravens' six losses, a 49-27 debacle at Denver on Sept. 5, came by more than a single score.
The game against the Bears was delayed by more than two hours by severe weather.
"In the end, it comes down to winning a tight game and doing the things you have to do to win a tight game," coach John Harbaugh said. "That's what we have to continue to work on doing a better job of because we haven't done a good enough job in close games."
Quarterback Joe Flacco earned a six-year, $120 million contract by performing well in tight spots en route to last season's championship, but he's plummeted to 26th-best in the league this year with a 75.3 passer rating. His 13 interceptions through 10 games are more than he's ever had through 16.
Against the Bears, he was picked off twice - once for a TD - and completed 17- of-31 passes for one Baltimore score.
"We all wish we could play better, and that starts with me," Flacco said. "Up to this point, no, I haven't and we haven't played the way we want to - or should. It's annoying. I'm a guy that does not like to throw interceptions. Believe me, I don't like the fact that when you look at what we've done, that I've thrown. That's tough."
The Ravens are 30th in the league in total yards - 308.5 per game - and 23rd in the league with a minus-5 turnover ratio. It hasn't exceeded 20 points since a Week 5 at Miami.
Still, the Bears allowed them to gain a season-best 174 rushing yards, including 131 from Ray Rice, who'd had just 289 yards in his initial eight games.
Against the Jets, Rice and Co. will get a second look at former teammate Ed Reed, who started the season with Houston - and faced the Ravens in Week 3 - and will see them again in his second appearance with the Jets after signing on with them after he was waived by the Texans.
Not to mention, Jets coach Rex Ryan was a Baltimore assistant from 1999 to 2008.
Ryan, Reed and the rest of Gang Green are licking their collective wounds as they head to Maryland after an ugly 37-14 loss at Buffalo in a game New York was hoping would give it a playoff positioning cushion down the stretch.
Instead, the Jets continued what's now a post-merger NFL-record streak of alternating wins and losses from the start of a season. New York was beaten by 40 points at Cincinnati on Oct. 27, toppled once-beaten New Orleans, 26-20, a week later and had a one-week bye before the blowout at Buffalo in which starting quarterback Geno Smith was benched.
The rookie will start this week after completing only eight of 23 passes and being intercepted three times against the Bills. He was relieved by Matt Simms, who connected on four of six throws for 60 yards and a TD.
Smith has thrown 16 interceptions for the season and trails only Eli Manning's 20 league-wide.
"I don't think statistics tell every single thing, every part of the story," Smith said. "I obviously don't want my stats to look like that and I don't want to play like that. But I've gotten better. I've become a smarter player. Every player in the NFL, everyone's job is on the line, every single person. That's day to day, no one's job is 100 percent secured."
Ryan insisted the youngster's job is safe, at least for now.
"I've watched the tape. I put myself through it again and I think, without question, Geno's going to start this game," he said. "I think Geno has a chance to be a good quarterback. We have to get him dialed in better."
The Jets are eighth in the league in rushing with 129.5 yards per game, and Chris Ivory has gone for 237 yards in his last two outings. Baltimore is 11th in the league against the run, allowing 102.7 ground yards per week.
''We know our fans deserve better and we certainly are going to play better," Ryan said. "Obviously, we know we have to play better. That's not hard to figure out."
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
Keep the rookie upright.
Smith has been wildly inconsistent all season long, but his cause was hardly aided in Buffalo by an offensive line that was frequently bamboozled by both straight-ahead rushes and myriad blitzes from varying directions. He won't improve here if he's on his back.
Play like a champion, Joe Cool.
Because the Jets have been positively stifling against the run, it'll likely place some additional emphasis on the offensive acumen of Baltimore's Flacco, whose decision-making has been iffy in spots through 10 games. It may not take a lot of points to be decisive in this one.
When the Jets have been good, they've been pretty good. But when they've been bad, they've been terrible.
And while the season-long streak would indicate it's time for a victory this weekend, the huge loss at Buffalo may have taken more out of them than a chance at postseason comfort.
Sports Network predicted outcome: Ravens 24, Jets 14
11/21 12:14:09 ET
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