Ravens' backs to the wall against Denver

OWINGS MILLS -- Inside the Baltimore Ravens' locker room, Pro Bowl outside linebacker Terrell Suggs' stall is usually a jovial place filled with laughter.   It's where the latest action and comedy movies are displayed on his popular DVD player, and it's where Suggs' unique brand of humor is on display.

On Thursday, though, Suggs turned serious for a few moments to discuss the hefty stakes surrounding the Ravens' game today against the undefeated Denver Broncos at M&T Bank Stadium.

Mired in a three-game losing streak and trailing the Cincinnati Bengals and the Pittsburgh Steelers by 1 1/2 games in the AFC North, the Ravens (3-3) can't afford a fourth consecutive loss against a Broncos (6-0) team that has emerged as one of the most surprising stories in the NFL this season.

"It seems like we're always fighting an uphill battle, but we make it hard on ourselves," Suggs said. "You know we do it to ourselves. All the experts keep saying, 'Oh, three plays and they're 6-0,' but we can't live up there.

"We live in the reality, and the reality is we're 3-3. And we just better start playing some serious football. Otherwise, our January isn't going to look that good."

Eleven points is the combined margin of the Ravens' three defeats to the Minnesota Vikings, Cincinnati Bengals and the New England Patriots, teams with a combined record of 16-5.

The Ravens' three wins are against the Kansas City Chiefs, Cleveland Browns and the San Diego Chargers, who own a combined mark of 5-15.

The Broncos might be their most formidable opponent yet.

Like the Ravens, the Broncos are well-rested following a bye.

Unlike the Ravens, the Broncos are in firm control of a weak AFC West division with a three-game lead over the Chargers.

Another misstep for the Ravens will make it even tougher for them to return to the playoffs as they would need to go 7-2 over the remaining nine games to get to 10 victories for the season.

"We understand what is at stake," wide receiver Derrick Mason said. "We understand that we're on a three-game losing streak and that you want to dig yourself out of the hole.

"Hopefully, the game won't come down to a last-second touchdown or a last-second play that we have to make to win the game. We know that eventually, hopefully, the ball will start to bounce our way a little bit."

The Ravens could use some good fortune against a relentless Broncos defense headlined by NFL sacks leader Elvis Dumervil, a prolific pass rusher with 10 sacks.

Denver is allowing the fewest points in the NFL having surrendered just 66 points with only 10 given up after halftime.

Under new coach Josh McDaniels, the Broncos have been transformed from a weak-willed team into a powerhouse build on intensity.

They constantly play hard throughout the game, and they wear teams out in the second half.

"Coach McDaniels emphasizes finishing," Dumervil said. "A lot of it has to do with conditioning. I think guys understand that in the NFL. You just have to continue to outwork your opponent."

Under the tutelage of former Ravens defensive coordinator Mike Nolan, the Broncos lead the NFL in third-down defense with a 27 percent conversion rate.

That includes just two first downs given up in the second half, for the entire season.

"It doesn't get any better for football," All-Pro middle linebacker Ray Lewis said. "There are a couple teams left undefeated. I'm okay with not being undefeated, because I want to do some other things.

"Those guys are in great position right now. The bottom line is the Broncos are playing very sound football right now. They have a reason to be undefeated."

The Broncos are relying on a grinding formula that should be familiar to the Ravens: avoiding turnovers, strong defense and a hard-nosed running game.

Quarterback Kyle Orton's cautious, precise throws have generated nine touchdown passes and only one interception. And that turnover came on a Hail Mary pass to end the first half against the Patriots.

The pocket passer receives outstanding pass protection from left offensive tackle Ryan Clady.

And he has 6-foot-4, 230-pound Pro Bowl wide receiver Brandon Marshall to line up against the Ravens' small cornerbacks Domonique Foxworth and Fabian Washington.

The Ravens' pass defense has dipped to 23rd in the league, allowing 22 passes of at least 20 yards or more.

"This is as big a game as we've had this season," Foxworth said. "We have to stop this."

Plus, rookie running back Knowshon Moreno and veteran Correll Buckhalter have formed a productive tandem for the 10th-ranked running game in the league.

"Oh, they're smoking," Suggs said. "Not only are they a great football team, but also they're playing with a tremendous swagger and tremendous confidence.

"A team like that, that gets rolling like that, they're dangerous. So, I think they're playing the best football in all the NFL."

That doesn't describe how the Ravens' usually stalwart defense has performed lately.

The Ravens are allowing 21.7 points per game, dropping to 19th in total defense with an average of 332.7 yards given up per contest.

And with the Ravens' fifth-ranked offense scoring 28.2 points per game and scoring quickly, a defense unaccustomed to being back on the field right away hasn't adjusted all that well to the change.

"I think you've got to really take stock of where you are and look at what you can get better at," tight end Todd Heap said. "There's a little more urgency to it because we're all aware that we need to get a win. That's our only goal."

The Ravens have won five of their past seven games after a bye, and the Broncos are 5-1 after their bye over the past six years.

The Ravens have had a lot of time to think about key moments like kicker Steve Hauschka's missed field goal in the closing seconds against the Vikings, the collection of defensive penalties on the Bengals' game-winning drive in the fourth quarter and wide receiver Mark Clayton's crucial drop in New England.

"I think rest in this league is the best medicine," Suggs said. "We got some rest, but none of us really got away from football.

"All of us are still thinking about we're 3-3 and how do we get this team to snowball again to get another tally in the win mark. We just need to get back to us being us."

The Broncos have never won a game on Baltimore, including the playoffs with an average margin of 16.3 points.

For the Ravens to reverse their recent trend of coming up short, they're going to need a supreme effort today against a Broncos team that has the leading Coach of the Year candidate in McDaniels.

In order to turn around their season, the Ravens need to win this game.

And they'll need their old trademark swagger to do so.

"We need it," Suggs said. "We can't go there trying to beat them in order to get that little pep in our step back. We need to walk in the stadium with it.

"If we don't have it, it's going to be another long day for the city of Baltimore. We show up as the Baltimore Ravens, if we show up, I like our chances."

NOTE: With kicker Steve Hauschka dealing with a right ankle injury suffered in practice this week, the Baltimore Ravens tried out free agent kickers Mike Nugent and Connor Barth. Neither player was immediately signed. Nugent and Barth also tried out for the New England Patriots earlier this week.

Hauschka said Friday that he hit the football awkwardly during practice this week as he suffered a foot injury, but expected to be fine for today's game against the Broncos. He was listed as probable on the injury report. Hauschka missed a potential game-winning field goal in a 33-31 loss to the Vikings prior to the Ravens' bye.


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