Ravens facing rocky NFL road

OWINGS MILLS -- As an unintended consequence of a postponement forced by the wrath of Hurricane Ike, the Baltimore Ravens now have one of the most taxing schedules in the NFL. Because an original Nov. 9 bye is being used to make up the postponed game against the Houston Texans, the Ravens will play 15 consecutive games without a week off.

Yet, the Ravens aren't complaining about their lot. Especially considering the serious plight of the Texans as well as Gulf Coast residents affected by the deadly storm.

"We're very understanding of the situation," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said Monday. "We're disappointed that we didn't get a chance to play, but we understand the decision that the league made. We support it fully, and we're looking forward to playing them down the road.

"We understand priorities are for life and for property and for well-being down there. At the same time, our guys worked hard this week and they were excited to play a football game."

The Ravens (1-0), who play the Cleveland Browns (0-2) at home Sunday, will need to be road warriors to remain in the hunt in the AFC North.

They have the unenviable task of facing the demands of five road games in a 29-day period. There's a stretch of three consecutive road games against opponents that were a combined 16-8 at home last season.

The Ravens travel to the Indianapolis Colts on Oct. 12, play the Miami Dolphins on the road Oct. 19, the Oakland Raiders at home, and then have road contests against the Browns, Texans and defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants.

"To be honest with you, we're looking forward to it," Harbaugh said. "You talk about football players and football coaches and their mindset, and that will be something we will take on with relish and attack it with enthusiasm unknown to mankind."

Harbaugh said he was involved in conference calls with league and Texans team officials and expressed a strong desire on the Ravens' part to play this past weekend. Alternate sites, including Atlanta and New Orleans, were broached.

However, it was deemed logistically impossible to get the Texans to another city after the storm hit.

"I was able to put my two cents worth in," Harbaugh said. "It was our job to speak on behalf of our players and our players wanted to play and we wanted to play."

When asked if the Texans still wanted to play after the hurricane, Harbaugh replied: "I'm sure that if they were able to play they would've wanted to play in a general sense. But from a detail standpoint, I don't know an answer to that."

The Ravens are already pondering how to keep the players from wearing out as they head into a rough stretch of games away from M&T Bank Stadium, where they opened the season with a 17-10 win over the Cincinnati Bengals.

One strategy the Ravens could employ is reducing contact drills and building more time off into the weekly practice schedule.

"I don't think it changes anything right now, but when those weeks come up we'll come up with a plan to account for the fact that we don't have a bye week," Harbaugh said. "Practice being altered in some fashion, players' reps being altered in some fashion, that's going to be important in the middle of the season when that bye week doesn't happen."

Once the Ravens learned that their game with the Texans had been pushed back, they granted the players three days off prior to resuming practice Wednesday at team headquarters.

The extra week off may wind up helping several injured players, including nose guard Kelly Gregg (knee), running back Willis McGahee (knee), cornerbacks Fabian Washington (neck) and Derrick Martin (shoulder) and linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo (leg contusion).

"I know a couple of guys have a few nagging injuries, including me," center Jason Brown said. "Maybe this gives us a couple of days to regroup and rehab and get ready for Sunday's game. We'll do what we have to do to move on from this."

In the past few weeks, Harbaugh has lost two quarterbacks to illness (Troy Smith) and injury (Kyle Boller) and seen his team's bye week cancelled due to a hurricane.

"I never thought all this would happen in this short of a time," Harbaugh said. "It's a chance to experience some things that not too many programs have had a chance to experience.

"Our guys don't flinch, our coaches don't flinch, our players don't flinch. I think their morale is good." Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.


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