Ravens looking to reverse road woes

SAN FRANCISCO -- Arriving on the edge of the Pacific Ocean after traveling across the continent, the Baltimore Ravens have embarked on an elusive quest. The defending AFC North champions are in dire need of a road victory today as they take on the San Francisco 49ers at Monster Park.

It has been an ugly travelogue so far, one defined by costly miscues for the Ravens (2-2), who have regressed from road warriors a year ago into one of the NFL's worst road acts.

The Ravens are winless in two away contests after winning six of eight road games last season on their way to a franchise-record 13-3 campaign.

"You've just got to go out there and stay focused, it's always hard playing on the road," quarterback Steve McNair said. "It's like you've got your back against the wall and you've just got to come out fighting."

The Ravens have been outscored 54-33 in a pair of AFC North setbacks against the Cincinnati Bengals and the Cleveland Browns. In those encounters, the Ravens committed a total of eight turnovers, including six that directly led to 24 points in a 27-20 season-opening loss in Cincinnati.

When asked if the Ravens are underachieving, running back Willis McGahee replied: "I would say we are a whole lot better than what we seem to display."

Now, the Ravens are looking to reverse this negative trend as they make their longest trip of the season in a reunion football game that pits them against their former Super Bowl quarterback Trent Dilfer and former defensive coordinator Mike Nolan.

The 49ers have the worst total and passing offense in the league statistically and won't have starting quarterback Alex Smith under center due to a separated shoulder. Plus, former University of Maryland star tight end Vernon Davis is out with a knee injury and left offensive tackle Jonas Jennings for personal reasons.

"To tell you the truth, I'd play Dundalk and McDonogh right now, I'm just trying to get a victory," linebacker Bart Scott said. "I'm trying to be 3-2, and I don't care who it is. You can't buy into all that, ‘Their offense is struggling.'

"I don't want to hear that stuff. We're struggling. We're trying to get a victory, and it's on the road. Hopefully, we can get one." Baltimore had seemingly figured out how to win away from the cozy confines of M&T Bank Stadium, where they are undefeated this year and claimed seven of eight games last season.

The Ravens snapped the NFL's longest road losing streak last season, an 11-game skid that began in November 2004 and extended to the end of the 2005 campaign.

It's been an entirely different story this year.

After bashing opponents by an average margin of just over a dozen points last year, the Ravens have yet to even lead once on the road this season.

To right the course, the Ravens will need more than skill. It will take a different attitude, according to middle linebacker Ray Lewis.

"It's you -- all 53 men and your coaches that you go out there with -- that's all you have," Lewis said. "You can't look for anybody to help you. You can't look for any enthusiasm. You've got to create your own energy because everything is going to be hostile."

It has been more than hostile for the Ravens. It has been downright vicious as opponents seek payback and vindication against one of last year's elite teams.

"I've noticed a difference about other teams," wide receiver Derrick Mason said. "Whenever you go 13-3, teams are going to play you. Teams are going to analyze what you do in the offseason and really home in on what you like to do in certain areas.

"They're going to come back and pretty much try and take away what you do best. It's not like we're not trying to get the ball in the end zone, but defenses are out there and they're playing tough."

The Ravens' deadly combination of repeated red-zone failures and McNair's propensity for turnovers have scrapped their chances of winning their previous road trips. Dealing with a nagging groin pull, McNair has fumbled three times on the road and tossed two interceptions.

"Every game is a must-win," McNair said. "Unfortunately, we haven't done that. We have to look at ourselves to get better. I think the guys with the attitude that we have coming in have that modified."

Ravens coach Brian Billick acknowledged that his team must improve on the road to return to the postseason.

Traditionally, NFL teams attempt to win all eight home games and split their road schedule to try to finish 12-4 and be assured of a playoff berth. The Ravens topped that measure a year ago.

"You can't do it without it," Billick said. "That would make this doubly sweet if we could go to the West Coast under these circumstances and get a road win. That's very, very important."

Billick has installed a 9 p.m. curfew to keep his players on East Coast time, although McGahee doesn't sound fazed by traveling 2,821 miles.

"I'm going to try to sleep on the plane," he said. "I'm not going to worry about that. The trip's not going to hold me down. You know me, I'm going to go out there and have fun, do what I do.

"It's not going to be such a big toll on us, to tell you the truth. We know how to carry ourselves. At the nighttime when we get there, we've just got to be in bed at a certain time. My clock stays on track."

This team could definitely use some fine-tuning.

There's no denying that the Ravens have had an unenviable showing so far away from home with five fumbles, three interceptions and 54 points allowed.

"There has to be a sense of urgency," Mason said. "To go 0-2 in the division, that's tough. Now, you're playing catch-up. From here on out, we have to treat every game as a must-win.

"We have to, point-blank, because it's only going to get tougher and it starts with this weekend. We have to get back to that point where we were last year where we were dominating. We're just not doing that."

NOTES: Rhys Lloyd, the strong-legged kicker who had been inactive for the first four games, was cut Saturday. His roster spot was given to wide receiver Matt Willis, who was activated from the practice squad.

It's a possible negative indicator about Mason, who's questionable with a knee injury that kept him out of practice Thursday and Friday. However, Mason said Friday that he was definitely going to play.

The Ravens are also banged-up at tight end with Todd Heap (hamstring) and Daniel Wilcox (foot) questionable and Quinn Sypniewski preparing to start.

Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.

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