Ravens to take on the Giants

OWINGS MILLS -- It seems like an eternity ago that the Baltimore Ravens were mired in a three-game losing streak, running into an early road block five weeks into the launch of the John Harbaugh era. A 31-3 debacle of a loss against the Indianapolis Colts was clearly the low point of a miniature downward spiral last month.

Sprinting away from that crossroads, the Ravens (6-3) are riding the crest of four victories in a row and are tied for first place in the AFC North with the Pittsburgh Steelers having already eclipsed last year's win total under former coach Brian Billick.

Following a dominant 41-13 win over the Houston Texans where the NFL's second-ranked defense intercepted quarterback Sage Rosenfels four times and the offense scored 22 unanswered points in the fourth quarter, the Ravens are obviously playing much better football now and have emerged as a surprise playoff contender.

Behind a three-game road winning streak that ties a franchise record, setting a team record with at least 27 points in each of the past four games and the progression of rookie quarterback Joe Flacco throwing six touchdown passes with no interceptions over that span while outscoring opponents 134-64, the Ravens are primed for the remainder of the season.

"I think it says a lot about the character of our team," Harbaugh said Monday afternoon during his weekly news conference. "Our players stepped up. There was obviously a time probably in their minds when they're wondering how this was going to go, but they didn't bat an eye.

"They went out there against Miami when we were 2-3 and losing three in a row, as everybody pointed out, and overcame a tough road trip down there against what's turned out to be a heck of a football team. To me, that was kind of the point where that showed up more than anything else."

Pushing forward from that 27-13 win over the Dolphins that evened their record, the Ravens have improved markedly on offense.

Traditionally as weak on offense as they are stout on defense, the Ravens have climbed to 16th in total offense (323.7 yards) and rank third in rushing (150.2 yards) and are 28th in passing (173.4) while Flacco hasn't thrown an interception since tossing a season-high three against the Colts.

Known for their swaggering defense, the Ravens are beginning to shift how they're defined. They scored 40 points on the road for the first time since 1999 against the Texans.

"Our identity in our minds is a rough, tough, clean, disciplined football team," Harbaugh said. "That's all three phases: offense, defense and special teams. We're proud of the team we put out there Sunday for sure, and we're excited to see the team that we're going to be here next Sunday."

That will be a telling football game against the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants. Of the Ravens' six wins, only one is against a team with a winning record: the 5-4 Dolphins.

Their other five wins are against the Cincinnati Bengals (1-8), sweeping the Cleveland Browns (3-6), and defeating the Texans (3-6) and the Oakland Raiders (2-7). Their three losses are against Pittsburgh (6-3), the Tennessee Titans (9-0) and the Indianapolis Colts (5-4).

Now, the Ravens head up to The Meadowlands to face off with a formidable, balanced Giants team.

"We have to get better between last Sunday and next Sunday to have a chance to even compete in this football game," Harbaugh said.

This marks the Ravens' fifth road game in the past six weeks.

Asked if it helps the Ravens this week since they're suddenly accustomed to winning on the road, Harbaugh declined to entertain the theory.

"It's irrelevant, doesn't matter," he said. "The comparisons, things like that, just don't have any value for us in looking at it that way."

What is undeniably valuable for Baltimore is how it's learning to close teams out. Outscoring opponents 35-30 in the first quarter and 59-38 in the second quarter while being outscored 59-58 in the third quarter, the Ravens hold a commanding 60-20 advantage in fourth-quarter scoring.

Are the Ravens developing the killer instinct needed to make a postseason run?

"We'll have to," said wide receiver Derrick Mason, who is dealing with a dislocated left shoulder that has his status for Sunday up in the air. "Teams make the playoffs in November and December, and then you win championships in January. So, we're just slowly but surely setting ourselves up for next month. We'll see where it goes from there."

The schedule is about to get more demanding, though, against the ultra-competitive NFC East, beginning with the Giants (8-1) followed by tough games against Harbaugh's former Philadelphia Eagles team (5-4), the Washington Redskins (6-3) and the Dallas Cowboys (5-4) as well as a divisional rematch with the Steelers.

Yet, the Ravens seem more prepared now for the rigors of the season. Certainly, a lot more so than they did during the preseason or that three-game losing streak.

"It's exciting, it's good times," offensive tackle Adam Terry said. "We're ready to roll."


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