The Ravens' exercise in precaution paid off Sunday, emerging relatively unscathed as far as sustaining any new major injuries during a relatively meaningless regular-season finale.
Pro Bowl fullback Vonta Leach and starting rookie offensive tackle Kelechi Osemele didn't finish Sunday's game against the Cincinnati Bengals due to injuries, but both are expected be back on the field for the postseason.
Ravens coach John Harbaugh indicated neither injury is regarded as serious enough to affect their availability for next weekend's AFC wild-card playoff game against the Indianapolis Colts at M&T Bank Stadium.
Leach left in the first quarter of the 23-17 loss after aggravating his sprained right ankle when he took a shot to the lower leg and was replaced by tight end Billy Bajema.
Osemele left the game in the second quarter to go to the locker room to have a lower-body injury examined. Not even limping later in the locker room, Osemele said that he wasn't hurt badly and could have gone back in the game if needed.
"I'm fine," Osemele said. "I'm good for next week."
The Ravens shifted Michael Oher from left tackle to right tackle in place of Osemele and had Bryant McKinnie line up at left tackle.
“Injury-wise, there's nothing to speak of, of consequence,” Harbaugh said. “The guys that came out, Vonta and Kelechi, should be fine for next week. I really don't have the diagnosis on [Leach], I just know he's going to be OK.”
Meanwhile, the Ravens hope to be much healthier for the postseason after resting starters like wide receiver Anquan Boldin (bruised left shoulder) and strong safety Bernard Pollard (damaged ribs). Both emphasized that they could have played if needed Sunday.
“That's what we were looking to do, get guys rested so we can have all hands on deck next week,” Boldin said. “If it was one of those bigger games, I definitely could have played.”
Pollard missed his third consecutive game after hurting his ribs again during an overtime loss to the Washington Redskins.
“I could have went,” said Pollard, who practiced last week and was probable on the injury report. “Just being smart.”
Pollard is excited about the prospects of having a healthier team for the playoffs, especially on defense where the Ravens are hoping to have Pollard, outside linebacker Terrell Suggs (torn right biceps) and middle linebacker Ray Lewis (right triceps surgery) back in the lineup.
“This is the first time we get a chance to get our defense back, we're excited and ready to roll,” Pollard said. “We look at this as a chance to show our fans, show our coaches, show the city and show the opposing team we're here to play. We got to show what we're made of.”
Battling with Burfict
Bengals rookie linebacker Vontaze Burfict got into altercations with Ray Rice and offensive guard Bobbie Williams, triggering personal foul calls against the Ravens in each incident.
Rice roughly shoved Burfict to the ground in the first quarter, leading to an unnecessary roughness penalty. Rice said Burfict was talking a lot of trash.
“I told him he'll be a great player if he didn't talk so much,” Rice said. “I got a personal foul messing with him. I don't know if it was that personal. I cut him and went back and I finished him off.
“He's going to be a good player. He's feisty, that's what I told him. You see a young guy like that and talent will only take you so far.”
Burfict, who went undrafted after a disastrous NFL scouting combine, has become the Bengals' leading tackler and had a game-high 18 tackles Sunday, gloated afterward.
“[Rice] chopped me,” he said. “I don't know what he tried to do, but he tried to take a cheap shot. That's football. At the end of the day, he got a personal foul and I didn't. Big man wins. The old Vontaze would have did exactly what he did, talked a little [stuff] and then walked off.”
Williams said Burfict kicked him, leading him to retaliate in the second quarter to draw an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.
“He's just a young pup out there,” Williams said. “Hey, it's football. He gave me a kick, it is what it is.”
Another sack for Kruger
Outside linebacker Paul Kruger continues to thrive in a situational pass rushing role.
Kruger recorded his team-high and career-high ninth sack Sunday.
The pending unrestricted free agent has boosted his stock.
Kruger has said he prefers to remain in Baltimore, but he'll also have other options in March when the free agency signing period begins.
"Yes, I'm excited for the future," said Kruger, a former second-round draft pick from Utah. "I've really developed here a lot. I really appreciate the teammates and coaches that have pushed me to get better. So, I'm really excited."
J. Smith's step forward
The Ravens were encouraged by how cornerback Jimmy Smith performed against the Bengals.
Although he was flagged for a 21-yard pass interference penalty, Smith looked more comfortable and covered more closely since returning from sports hernia surgery.
“Jimmy looked like he's getting better,” Harbaugh said. “He's played his best game obviously since he's been hurt. That will be a big bonus for us if he can be 100 percent.”
Beaten for a completion that set up a touchdown in his first game back against the Denver Broncos, Smith had two tackles Sunday. His pass deflection on a deep pass was taken away by a Baltimore penalty.
“It feels real good to get back on the field, especially having that adversity I faced this year,” Smith said. “I'm still getting there. No setbacks, I felt good. I broke up some scar tissue. It was a step in the right direction.”
It was a proud day for the Gradkowski clan Sunday with several family members on hand to watch a pair of brothers square off.
Bengals veteran backup quarterback Bruce Gradkowski and Ravens rookie center Gino Gradkowski both got extensive playing time.
“Yeah, it was cool,” Gino Gradkowski said. “It's cool because we shared the dream together and have been a part of each others' lives the whole way and been each others' biggest fans. It was weird because now we can't root for each other. It was fun to be out there with him.”
Bruce Gradkowski completed 5 of 11 passes for 65 yards in relief of starter Andy Dalton, and Gino Gradkowski had a solid game.
“We got significant playing time, so that was cool,” Gino Gradkowski said. “I felt pretty good out there. They have a good front. We'll evaluate the film and see how I did.”
Allen finds end zone
Reserve running back Anthony Allen has provided key blocks all season for Pro Bowl kick returner Jacoby Jones.
Allen got to step out of his good-soldier role for a bit Sunday, scoring his first NFL touchdown on a 2-yard plunge off left tackle one play after a career-long 20-yard run.
His reaction to the score was tame.
“I was too tired to celebrate,” Allen said. “I thought about celebrating and then I thought I got to get on this kickoff the next play.”
Cody fearing fine
Nose tackle Terrence Cody is bracing for a fine from the NFL later this week due to his roughing the passer penalty stemming from a late hit on Gradkowski.
The flag gave the Bengals a first down on a drive capped with a field goal.
“At first, I didn't think I hit him with the crown of my helmet,” Cody said. “I came up with my elbow first. I kind of messed up the whole drive and gave them three points. It was a bad hit. I'll be looking for that fine letter from the NFL.”
The Ravens set a franchise record with 398 points for the season, topping previous marks of 391 points in 2009 and 2003. ... The Ravens also set a franchise record for fewest turnovers with 16, beating the previous record of 20 established in 2010. ... Defensive tackle Bryan Hall's first NFL sack and forced fumble was nullified after an instant-replay review. “The first sack of my NFL career, and it didn't even count,” Hall said. “I'll keep the tape and show my kids one day. I had a lot of family here to see a fake sack. I got to keep it up, plenty more to come.”
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