Ravens trying to hurdle roadblock

OWINGS MILLS -- It's a season finale seemingly devoid of tangible stakes or any of the high-profile glitz normally associated with the NFL. This game doesn't have playoff implications, but isn't entirely without meaning, though.

For the Baltimore Ravens (6-9), a victory in Sunday's game against the last-place Cleveland Browns (5-10) represents one final opportunity to avoid the egregious distinction of not winning a single road game in 2005.

It's also a chance to end an underachieving season with three consecutive wins and leave a lasting impression with the coaching staff and personnel department.

The Ravens are 0-7 away from M&T Bank Stadium, and have lost 10 road games in a row in a streak that dates back to a Nov. 14, 2004 win over the New York Jets.

"It seems like every time we walk through that airport you want to put your head down because we've come back with losses," quarterback Kyle Boller said. "It would be really sweet for us to end on a high note and walk through that airport with our heads high at least a little bit."

The juxtaposition of a 6-2 home mark underscores the team's struggles away from the state of Maryland.

"We need to get that monkey off our back," linebacker Adalius Thomas said.

Five of the Ravens' seven 2005 road defeats were to playoff teams, including the Chicago Bears, Pittsburgh Steelers, Jacksonville Jaguars, Cincinnati Bengals and Denver Broncos. To close the 2004 season on the road, the Ravens fell to the eventual Super Bowl champion New England Patriots along with the Steelers and Indianapolis Colts.

"It's annoying to hear about it and I didn't realize the number was so big," linebacker Bart Scott said.

A 21-penalty debacle in Detroit with two player ejections is a glaring example of what penalties can produce. Boller's inexplicable three turnovers in Denver was another blueprint for how to lose.

"You can draw a lot of conclusions," said Ravens coach Brian Billick, whose team hasn't made the playoffs since 2003. "That's quite a group of opponents. We can't use that by way of excuse and say that makes it okay, not by a long shot. But is that a factor? Yeah."

Meanwhile, the reeling Browns are trying to avoid losing every single division game with a current 0-5 mark in the AFC North. The Browns haven't gone winless in the division since joining the NFL in 1950, the AFL-NFL merger in 1970 or returning as an expansion team in 1999.

"We're just not good enough within the division overall," Browns coach Romeo Crennel said.

The Ravens defeated Cleveland 16-3 earlier this season.

"Out of all those teams, Baltimore is the team I think we're capable of beating and we just haven't gotten it done," Browns cornerback Daylon McCutcheon said.

The Ravens have won three of their last four games, including consecutive wins on prime-time television. That appears to demonstrate untapped potential.

"I don't know if it's so much regret as disappointment that we didn't live up to our expectations," defensive end Tony Weaver said. "The way that we played the last two weeks, it seems like it could have been like that all year."

This is Boller's final audition to try to remain the starter in 2006 after passing for 793 yards, seven touchdowns and three interceptions in the past three games.

"It's an evaluation every week," Boller said. "In this business, you're going to have some bad games and some good games. I continue to just try to be a smooth quarterback.

"Every time I'm out on the field, the game slows down. I can't wait to get out there and just throw the ball around with my guys."

And for an offense that has piled up a total of 802 yards in the last two games, it's another chance to build rhythm and confidence for next season.

"You can't go back," tight end Todd Heap said. "I've never been against expectations."

This might be several players' final NFL game, especially 38-year-old nickel back Deion Sanders.

"We have a great example for the young guys," Billick said. "He placed that much value at one more opportunity."

For impending free agents like Jamal Lewis, Weaver and nearly 20 other players, this could be their final game in a Ravens uniform.

"Guys laugh when I tell them, ‘Get a camera,' because this locker room will never be the same," Thomas said. "There's always going to be change. I try to savor the friendships."

In addition to being a long time contributor to RavensInsider, Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times in Westminster Maryland.

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