Ravens facing rocky road

OWINGS MILLS -- The Baltimore Ravens are about to test the truth of that adage regarding the unforgiving nature of the road in the NFL. With two wrenching losses to a pair of division leaders in the Tennessee Titans and the Pittsburgh Steelers by a total of six points immediately behind them, the Ravens (2-2) will travel for five of the next six games beginning against the Indianapolis Colts.

Because of Hurricane Ike, there is no bye week as the Ravens will play the Houston Texans on Nov. 9.

The Ravens don't have a good track record away from home, losing their past six road contests and eight of their past nine road games overall. The team's last road success was a 9-7 victory over the San Francisco 49ers on Oct. 7, 2007.

"I think the NFL is a challenge whether you play at home or you play on the road," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "Our guys are very capable of winning on the road. We expect to win every one of those football games when they come up."

The schedule isn't looking quite as difficult, though, as it did weeks ago.

The Colts (2-2), Miami Dolphins (2-2), Cleveland Browns (1-3), Houston Texans (0-4) and the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants (4-0) are what's up next on the road for Baltimore with a home game against the Oakland Raiders (1-3) sandwiched in between on Oct. 26.

Following two consecutive defeats, though, spelled by issues with turnovers, clock management, penalties and late-game lapses by the NFL's top-ranked defense, the Ravens are on the verge of either righting their season or taking a step backward.

"We play these games and feel like we leave it all on the field," defensive tackle Justin Bannan said. "We're just not getting it done, and certain things are happening, but no excuses. We've just got to come out and do better."

Rookie quarterback Joe Flacco has committed five turnovers on four interceptions and a lost fumble over the past three games.

His second interception rolling out to his right against the Titans happened in the final minutes, sealing the Ravens' fate.

"We have to learn how to take that next step against a good team and win a tight football game at the end," Flacco said.

For the season, Flacco has completed 58.5 percent (62 of 106) of his throws for 603 yards, one touchdown and four interceptions for a 62.0 quarterback rating.

"There are veteran quarterbacks all over the league that turn the ball over, that make bad decisions," Harbaugh said. "Joe, we don't look at him right now as a rookie quarterback, I know he's got this label: 'Look, rookie quarterback.' Joe is our quarterback.

"It's not like he's never going to throw another interception again because he threw an interception and you say, 'He learned from that one play.' As a football team, we need to overcome that learning process that he's going through and come up with plays to win football games."

Clock management is another aspect of the Ravens' game that needs improvement.

Harbaugh acknowledged that the Ravens took too long to line up following a run by Willis McGahee in the first half against the Titans. The offense took 15 seconds to get back to the line of scrimmage prior to a false-start penalty stopping the clock.

Then, kicker Matt Stover missed his third field goal of the season from beyond 40 yards with a 45-yard miss 14 seconds before halftime.

The coach said that he didn't have Flacco spike the ball because he wanted the Ravens to attempt a potential touchdown-scoring strike.

"The thought process there is that we might be able to steal a play," Harbaugh said. "We wanted to hurry to the line and get a call and see if we could steal a touchdown on the run.

"It was a scenario where we've got to operate better there. We've got to do a better job of communicating and a better job of getting on the line and making it happen faster."

The secondary could be vulnerable against Colts quarterback Peyton Manning with starting cornerback Samari Rolle out for at least a month following neck surgery and strong safety Dawan Landry still recovering from a spinal cord concussion.

Fabian Washington, who's starting in place of Rolle, dislocated his shoulder against Tennessee prior to Kerry Collins engineering a game-winning, 80-yard drive after a debatable unnecessary roughness penalty on outside linebacker Terrell Suggs.

Manning is adept at exploiting secondaries, shorthanded or not.

"It's always a challenge," Harbaugh said. "Our secondary will be at full strength for the guys that are healthy. The guys that will go out there will be counted on to get the job done. I think they'll play really well."

NOTES: Rookie running back Ray Rice rushed for 64 yards on 22 carries in the season opener, but didn't have a carry against the Titans. For the season, Rice has gained 85 yards on 28 carries. "We want Ray Rice to be involved, but it's within the framework of winning the football game and him doing the things that he's ready to do as it corresponds to things that we think are right to win the football game," Harbaugh said. "It just didn't come up during the game. We had hoped to play Ray more in the game, and his calls just didn't come up." ... Punter Sam Koch is averaging 46.1 yards with a 40.3 net average. ... The Ravens presented a refurbished Sandtown Habitat for Humanity home to a single-parent family, awarding a check for $25,000 to a nonprofit foundation with fullback Le'Ron McClain and tight end Daniel Wilcox attending the dedication.


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