Ravens hope home date will snap losing streak

OWINGS MILLS - Inside the Baltimore Ravens' locker room, several figurative references have been made to a spree of self-inflicted gunshot wounds to the feet. <P> Judging from the breakdowns that occurred in two consecutive road losses, it's a minor surprise that the Baltimore offense has any toes left to stand up on.

"Once we get rid of those kinks, we will be fine," interim quarterback Anthony Wright said, "but we continue to shoot ourselves in the foot. That has been our biggest problem."

Between an outbreak of turnovers, penalties and the usual symptoms that accompany a one-dimensional offense, the Ravens' winning formula has hit a snag.

Heading into the start of a three-game home stretch with today's contest against the Seattle Seahawks (7-3) at M&T Bank Stadium, the Ravens (5-5) are tied for the AFC North lead with the Cincinnati Bengals.

The most urgent issues remain the same as Baltimore attempts to make the playoffs for the first time in two seasons: curing the turnover bug and learning how to score in the red zone. In going six quarters without a touchdown, the Ravens have committed a total of 10 turnovers in the last two games. Those miscues have directly led to 26 of 42 points surrendered in losses to the Miami Dolphins and St. Louis Rams.

The catalogue of costly mistakes includes Wright's two interceptions and a fumble in last week's 9-6 overtime loss to Miami. NFL rushing leader Jamal Lewis fumbled twice against the Rams. And the entire football team has combined for 20 penalties.

Those problems and a passing game ranked last in the league are overshadowing an aggressive defense.

Baltimore hasn't allowed an offensive touchdown since the first quarter of the Rams game two weeks ago. Not to mention the efforts of reliable special teams headlined by kicker Matt Stover.

A date with former Baltimore defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis' Bengals looms in three weeks. The Ravens finish the regular season with four out of six games at home.

Can the comforts of home be the panacea Baltimore requires to snap out of this skid?

"It's not the only thing, but it's certainly going to help," said coach Brian Billick, whose team is 3-1 at home and 4-1 following losses this fall. "Playing on the road is tough, not an excuse, but tough. We're going to need our crowd, we're going to need the energy that brings and that begins with this week.

"We've said many times that the formula is win at home, split on the road and we haven't gotten that formula. We're going to have two more shots on the road to even that equation. Clearly, winning at home the next three weeks and finally with Pittsburgh here, it's going to be pivotal." Especially, the Ravens' Dec. 7 date with the Bengals. Yes, the same Bengals that handed Baltimore a loss last month.

"Cincinnati has to come to us," cornerback Chris McAlister said. "That is where we are going to break the division open. We can't complain. We would like to be in a better situation, but we will deal with it."

More immediately, Baltimore's third-ranked defense has to deal with the Seahawks' versatile offense that features impressive skill players in quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, running back Shaun Alexander and receivers Koren Robinson and Darrell Jackson.

Alexander has rushed for 835 yards and has scored a total of 10 touchdowns.Hasselbeck has an 87.4 rating and completes 60.7 percent of his passes. Both Robinson and Jackson can create separation and get capable assistance from Bobby Engram.

"They are a pretty good offense," linebacker Ray Lewis said. "They have very athletic guys. They might be as explosive as Kansas City. I'm not shy at all to ask my crowd to make sure they bring their lozenges and Hall's cough drops to make sure their throats are wet enough to scream on Sunday.

"We've got house rules and believe in some things. They might not. I guess we'll find out." Seattle is undefeated at home with a 6-0 mark, but only 1-3 on the road. By the end of the season, the Seahawks will have traveled a league-high 31,976 miles. Jet lag appears to be an issue.

"People are saying that we are having trouble on the road," Hasselbeck said. "I think we just made mistakes, turned the ball over and those kind of things. I think we didn't get it done. We didn't play well."

The Ravens' lone win over a team with a winning mark came against a banged-up Denver Broncos squad. A loss would drop Baltimore to under .500 for the first time since a loss to open the season to the Steelers.

"I don't care if we're .500 or .800 or .200," Billick said. "That's what life in the NFL is about in November and December."

Meanwhile, Jamal Lewis is looking to get on track after being held under 100 yards rushing by the Dolphins. Seattle ranks 16th overall against the run.

"Any team is a team you can run on," Lewis said. "We need to set the tempo."

A week that began with questions about team unity after shouting and curses were overheard in the locker room after the Miami loss may have galvanized the Ravens.

Following Friday's practice, linebacker Ray Lewis and defensive backs Gary Baxter and McAlister chased each other around the training complex, laughing and joking.

Bellowing from atop a stool Wednesday, cornerback Corey Fuller made a guarantee similar to New York Giants coach Jim Fassel's famous decree from a few years ago.

"We're going to make the playoffs," Fuller said. "We have too much talent to not make the playoffs."

NOTES: The Ravens' annual food drive is being collected Sunday. Donations of canned goods and money will be accepted between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. at the stadium gates by wives and mothers of the players.

Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times.

Ravens Insider Top Stories