JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Before the Game of the Year, before the Christmas Day battle that will launch a billion tweets, a million stories and a thousand ESPN segments, Justin Madubuike had to know something:

So … uh … just whom are the Ravens playing next?

“Yeah, the 49ers,” Madubuike said Sunday night, repeating a reporter’s question as he reached deep into his memory banks to access whatever he knew about San Francisco. The defensive lineman’s mind was elsewhere; the Ravens were in the playoffs, and all he’d studied for the past week was the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Now that they’d been beaten soundly inside EverBank Stadium, 23-7, Madubuike hadn’t given much thought to what came next. Another big game? Oh, cool. “Yeah, they’re a good team,” he continued. “They have one of the best backs in the league, good quarterback. I’m excited for it.”

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Then he smiled. “I know y’all are excited for it, too.”

The Ravens’ 24-hour rule under coach John Harbaugh is sacred. Luxuriate in the glory of a win or toil in the stink of a loss for a day, then move on to the next game. But hype waits for no one. Not when the AFC’s best team meets the NFC’s best team on “Monday Night Football.” Not when two Most Valuable Player front-runners take center stage at Levi’s Stadium. Not when there’s a potential Super Bowl preview in Week 16.

The Ravens have earned the attention, just as they earned the conference’s first playoff berth Sunday. But they will return this week to Baltimore, to their team facility in Owings Mills, not as a team to watch this week but as one of the only two teams to watch. There are 16 games on the NFL’s schedule next week; there might as well be just the one.

As the winds of the week’s media tornado started to whip up around the Ravens’ locker room late Sunday night, players seemed blissfully unaware of all the commotion. Quarterback Lamar Jackson said he didn’t even realize the Ravens had clinched a playoff berth until after the game. Inside linebacker Roquan Smith knew about the win-and-they’re-in stakes of Sunday night’s prime-time matchup only because friends and family had told him. Of course they weren’t thinking about the 49ers.

“That’s how these guys are,” Harbaugh said. “These guys are going to be thinking about one thing — thinking about the next game. 1-0 has been their mantra. Lamar talked about it before the season ever started, and it’s not going to change.”

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The Ravens are not a perfect team. The Ravens might not even be the NFL’s best team. But they are resourceful and well rounded and determined, and they can emerge from a shellacking of the AFC South-leading Jaguars (8-6) feeling a bit disappointed that the margin was only 16 points.

JACKSONVILLE, FLORIDA - DECEMBER 17: Isaiah Likely #80 of the Baltimore Ravens celebrates his receiving touchdown with Lamar Jackson #8 during the second quarter against the Jacksonville Jaguars at EverBank Stadium on December 17, 2023 in Jacksonville, Florida. (Photo by Mike Carlson/Getty Images)
Ravens tight end Isaiah Likely and quarterback Lamar Jackson get together after connecting on a touchdown pass. (Mike Carlson/Getty Images)

Jackson had accounted for 268 total yards and a touchdown, and yet: “We left some plays out there on that field, because if I would have thrown a better pass to [Rashod] Bateman in that end zone, that would have been a touchdown. So I’m pissed off about that as well, but we got the ‘dub.’ We clinched the playoffs, so I’m happy a little bit about that.”

The defense had given up five red-zone drives, and yet: “We bend, don’t break,” Smith said after the Ravens held Jacksonville to zero points inside their 20-yard line. “We just try to impose our will on people week in and week out. Obviously, those guys … I heard their little motto this week was, ‘Be the bully,’ or something like that. I overheard that, saying that they wanted to be a bully. That was their thing this week. Hey, I guess the bully gets hit in the mouth sometimes. How do they respond? It was a great team win.”

The Ravens had solidified themselves as the favorites to claim home-field advantage in the AFC, and yet: “It’s the beginning of what we want to do — not the end goal, obviously,” safety Kyle Hamilton said. “We just [need] to keep on building, and I don’t think we’re even close to how good we can be. So, everybody is stepping up. [There are] injuries, people going down — it’s a team effort.”

The Ravens are here, on the precipice of next week’s battle royale in Santa Clara, because they can win fighting just about any style. A week ago, Jackson lit up the Los Angeles Rams for 316 passing yards and three touchdowns. On Sunday, the Ravens rushed for 251 yards (6 per carry) against one of the NFL’s stingiest fronts. The Ravens’ pass defense is one of the league’s best. Their run defense again tightened the screws after a shaky start. Their special teams just won them a game in overtime.

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From here, it only gets harder. From here, it only gets more rewarding. The Ravens have battled through injuries and inclement weather, through bad bounces and worse collapses, and their prize is an 11-3 record and a daunting holiday slate. First up, the 11-3 49ers, who ranked No. 1 in the NFL in overall efficiency, according to FTN, even before Brock Purdy and Co. pummeled the Arizona Cardinals 45-29. After that, on New Year’s Eve, a home game against the 10-4 Miami Dolphins, the Ravens’ closest competition in the AFC, who just blanked the New York Jets 30-0, without wide receiver Tyreek Hill.

The Ravens will be short-handed down the stretch — they lost rising-star running back Keaton Mitchell to what’s feared to be a season-ending knee injury, and tight end Mark Andrews’s return timetable is still up in the air — but then, they were short-handed Sunday, too. Didn’t matter.

The Ravens' Daryl Worley makes the signal after one of two missed field goals by the Jaguars' Brandon McManus. (Courtney Culbreath/Getty Images)

“I believe we’re just getting started, but that was a tough team,” Jackson said. “That was a great team that we just played. We can’t downplay what was going on out there on that field even though … it was a double-digit score. But that was a tough team. Things just don’t happen like that in the league, so you have to be prepared each and every drive, each and every play.”

The Ravens would savor this one, and then they would move on to the next one. That is how it’s been after 11 wins. That’s how it’s been after three losses. That is how it’ll be after a 12th win. That is how it’ll be after a fourth loss.

The focus, Smith said, never changes, not even as the Ravens-49ers hype swells into a tidal wave headed for the Under Armour Performance Center: Go 1-0 every week. Outside Baltimore, it’s the Game of the Year. To the Ravens, it’s just the next game on the schedule.

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Jonas Shaffer is a Ravens beat writer for The Baltimore Banner. He previously covered the Ravens for The Baltimore Sun. Shaffer graduated from the University of Maryland and grew up in Silver Spring.

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