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Being the underdog is a familiar spot for the Ravens

Mike Preston

5:37 PM EDT, September 2, 2013

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It appears to be an improbable task but not impossible.

When the Ravens open the 2013 season Thursday at Sports Authority Field at Mile High, they will be 7.5 point underdogs, and that's understandable even though the Ravens are defending Super Bowl champions.

Denver was 7-1 at home last season and the Broncos are 24-7-1 in home openers. There are some who believe that the high altitude in Denver is a myth, but it truly does affect visiting teams.

And the Broncos still have quarterback Peyton Manning, who at age 37 is still one of the best in the NFL. The Ravens are playing him early when the weather is still warm and that old arm is still alive.

He commands the highest respect leading one of the league's highly touted offenses.

"No, it doesn't surprise me at all," said Ravens running back Ray Rice of being the underdog. "They've got a Hall of Fame quarterback on that team. A lot of respect to that guy, a lot of respect to the organization for what he was able to do, taking from the Colts and bringing it right to Denver and putting them in the position that they're in. It's a pretty favorable team, so much respect to them and what they've built over there and Peyton Manning helping them build that."

It's a tough situation for the Ravens even though this franchise seems to flourish when challenged. It would be different if this was another season opener on the road against another team, but the Ravens beat Denver, 38-35, in a marathon nearly eight months ago on the way to the championship.

Manning and head coach John Fox have downplayed that game as extra motivation, but who do they think they are kidding? That was a game the Broncos should have won returning a kickoff and punt for touchdowns.

They can't forget that 70-yard touchdown pass from Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco to Jacoby Jones to tie the game at 35 with 31 seconds left in regulation, or Justin Tucker's 47-yard field goal that ended the game in the second overtime.

Ravens outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil says it still hurts and he played for the Broncos last season.

"Yeah, I could've gotten the sack and I didn't," said Dumervil of Flacco's Hail Mary. "Me personally, I feel like I could've rushed better, and it hurts every time I watch it, even being here [now]."

If the Broncos are still in a coma and somehow aren't jacked, their fans will be after the NFL plastered posters of Flacco all over the town including on the stadium.

The place will be buzzing Thursday night.

"I can't imagine that people in our city would be too happy if somebody from another team was hanging on our stadium. I didn't have anything to do with it," said Flacco, drawing laughter.

But there are other reasons the Ravens are underdogs, and it has nothing to do with Denver. The Ravens lost six starters on defense including two future Hall of Famers in linebacker Ray Lewis and safety Ed Reed.

Even though they are bigger, faster, younger and stronger on defense, the outside world considers this a rebuilding year on defense, even though the Ravens weren't very good last year.

All things considered, this appears to be a mismatch, and the smart money should be bet on Denver.

But if there is one team in the NFL that could beat these odds, it is the Ravens. They just don't give a damn about playing on the road. They never have and never will.

It's part of their makeup. Last season, they beat Denver on the road in the playoffs and then defeated New England in Gillette Stadium to play the San Francisco 49ers in the Super Bowl.

Since the offseason started, the Ravens, in particular rush linebacker Terrell Suggs, have talked about the lack of respect given the team, and head coach John Harbaugh has echoed those sentiments throughout training camp.

The Ravens like being the underdogs. Harbaugh used it as motivation last season, and the Ravens are buying into it again.

"We've always been underdogs. There's something about the Ravens, something about us [that] we've always been underdogs," Rice said. "I don't think it's something that our guys read into. I think we've embraced being the villain at times. We don't mind going into the game saying that we're the underdog. We don't mind that kind of stuff, because when you overcome it … We were never the perfect football team.

"We won a Super Bowl last year, but we were never the perfect football team. We just found ways to win games, and that's the kind of football team we are. ..."

It should be interesting. It's an uphill battle, maybe even one too high for the Ravens to climb. Regardless of the outcome, the game will set a tone for the rest of the season.

The Ravens want to be underdogs this season, and Denver goes into Thursday night's game as heavy favorites. With defending champions there is always a question if they can develop the same edge from a year ago.

The Ravens have one now, at least in the opener.

mike.preston@baltsun.com

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