'Boys/Ravens Preview & Prediction

The Ravens better get off the bus running, because they don't need rookie QB Joe Flacco going into the teeth of Dallas' defense in the final game ever at Texas Stadium.

KICKOFF: Saturday, 8:15 ET
GAMEDATE: 12/20/08
SURFACE: Sportfield Realgrass
TV: NFL Network (Bob Papa, Cris Collinsworth)
SERIES: 3rd meeting. The Ravens lead the series, 2-0. This is the first meeting in Dallas. The Ravens have routed the Cowboys each time in Baltimore (27-0 in 2000 and 30-10 in 2004). In their last meeting, Ravens quarterback Kyle Boller completed 23 of 34 passes (68 percent) for 232 yards and accounted for all but 50 yards of the Ravens' total offense. He threw two touchdowns in the third quarter to put the Ravens ahead 14-3.

KEYS TO THE GAME: The Ravens better get off the bus running, because they don't need rookie QB Joe Flacco going into the teeth of Dallas' defense in the final game ever at Texas Stadium. It's going to be loud to begin with, and the Cowboys can ratchet up that noise by stacking onto their league-leading 52 sacks. Dallas is also ranked seventh against the run, but Baltimore will attempt to slowly chip away with bruising RB Le'Ron McClain. ... The Cowboys have had some issues with pass protection, which is a dangerous prospect against the Ravens' blitz packages that come from all over the field. Baltimore would love to be aggressive in coming after QB Tony Romo, who was slowed in practice this week by a sore back courtesy of several big hits by the Giants. Rookie RB Tashard Choice figures to see plenty of action again with starter Marion Barber still less than 100 percent.

KEY INJURIES: Ravens: RB Ray Rice (calf) is uncertain; CB Fabian Washington (hamstring) said he will play. Cowboys: Barber (dislocated toe) will be a game-time decision, but should play; Ss Keith Davis (strained neck) and Ken Hamlin (foot) are expected to play.

NEED TO KNOW: The Ravens have won both previous meetings, but this is their first regular-season game at Dallas. ... With one catch, Cowboys WR Terrell Owens will pass Art Monk (940) for seventh place in NFL history.

RAVENS PERSONNEL NEWS: OT Jared Gaither was limited in practice Thursday with an illness and expects to play.

--K Matt Stover was limited in practice all week but he should be fine. He kicked last week after being limited.

--OT Adam Terry was added to the injury report Thursday with a knee injury. He is expected to play.

--CB Fabian Washington returned to practice Thursday after missing Wednesday. This is a good sign that Washington will start Saturday.

--FS Ed Reed did not practice all week with a hamstring injury, but this is precautionary. He has had this routine for weeks and has played. He will start.

COWBOYS PERSONNEL NEWS: QB Tony Romo said his back was better Thursday and he threw the ball fine in practice. He doesn't expect to have any problems in Saturday's game.

--RB Marion Barber didn't practice with the dislocated pinky toe. He will be a game-time decision.

--SS Keith Davis was named the team's Ed Bloch courage award winner for playing last season with a torn pectoral muscle. He could also win this year as he is playing with a sprained knee and has a neck strain, but will not miss Saturday's game against the Ravens.

--FS Ken Hamlin will not practice this week with a sprained foot but he will play against the Ravens Saturday.

--LB Bobby Carpenter is iffy for Saturday's game with a calf strain. He has not practiced all week.

INSIDE THE RAVENS CAMPS: In just another way that Joe Flacco goes against the stereotype of a rookie quarterback, he has played better on the road than at the friendly confines of home.

In seven games at M&T Bank Stadium, Flacco has thrown four touchdowns and seven interceptions for a passer rating of 60.1. In seven road games, he has a rating of 91.1, throwing nine touchdowns and five interceptions.

So, what's the reason for the great disparity?

"The beds are probably better on the road ... it could be," wide receiver Derrick Mason said with a smile. "The bus ride might be a little better on the road than him driving his own car down to the stadium. I don't know what it is."

One reason might not involve Flacco at all. It could be the caliber of the opponent.

Not counting the three other AFC North teams (because he faces them on the road and home), all of the pass defenses that Flacco has gone against at M&T Bank Stadium rank in the top 10: the Tennessee Titans (fifth), Oakland Raiders (ninth), Philadelphia Eagles (fourth) and Washington Redskins (sixth).

It's been an easier path on the road, where he has played two pass defenses ranked in the top half of the NFL. Away from home, Flacco has faced the Indianapolis Colts (seventh), Miami Dolphins (20th), Houston Texans (18th) and New York Giants (10).

The Cowboys have the eighth-ranked pass defense.

Nevertheless, it's an impressive feat for a rookie quarterback to perform well on the road against any opponent.

Flacco has the NFL's fourth-best passer rating on the road (91.1), throwing a touchdown pass in five straight road games. His record is 4-3 away from home.

Atlanta's Matt Ryan, the NFL's other starting rookie quarterback, has an 82.2 rating on the road. His record away from the Georgia Dome is 3-4.

Flacco's teammates aren't surprised at the 23-year-old's success in hostile environments.

"That's just Joe's demeanor," Ravens middle linebacker Ray Lewis said. "Joe is just cool, laid back. So when we go on the road, no matter how loud people yell or what circumstances come up, he has great composure to keep the team together, keep the offense together.

"It's always exciting when you see someone that young do it, because you know the upside is so great. So, it's a great privilege to see Joe play football."

Flacco has shown great resiliency this season as a rookie.

There have been times when he has looked like a rookie in losses to the Colts and Giants, throwing a total of five interceptions. In games following those two losses, Flacco has produced a passer rating of 107.1. The coaches have continued to be impressed how Flacco has displayed maturity in turning his attention to the next game.

When Harbaugh talked to Flacco at 9:30 Monday morning, the rookie quarterback had already reviewed the Pittsburgh loss and had begun watching tape of the Cowboys.

"That's indicative of where our football team is at," Harbaugh said. "Our guys have moved on. You take the emotions and throw them away. You learn from the corrections and let's go forward. It's next game up in the NFL."

INSIDE THE COWBOYS CAMP: The Ravens will run into a motivated group of Cowboys and Cowboys fans on Saturday. The Cowboys are in a must-win battle to keep their playoff hopes alive.

If that wasn't enough, it's the last game at Texas Stadium as the team moves into the new Cowboys stadium in Arlington next year. The Cowboys are planning a big send off with all the stars from yesteryear,

including the team's Hall of Famers and members of the hallowed ring of honor. The Cowboys would love nothing more than to give them all one great final memory at Texas Stadium.

"So much tradition and so many great things that happened in that stadium, you just, it's kind of neat to sit back and think about and reflect on some of the things you were able to watch (and) see, how many big games, or how many great players have been in a situation in there," quarterback Tony Romo said.

"It makes you think and to be proud of the organization. To win the last game, it's really important, but I don't think it will change the history of what's been done before. I know the fans will be excited, I know the players are excited and obviously the organization is behind it. From that prospective, we like to send it out on the right note."

PREDICTION: Cowboys 20-13

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