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Ravens: Now for the real test

The Ravens just put together their most complete performance of the year, an all-around butt-whipping made all the more impressive because it was their third consecutive road victory and improved their record to 4-1 in this grueling span of six games that includes five road stops.

Trouble is, the last stop will be at the Meadowlands, where the Ravens can either bridge their narrowing credibility gap or fall victim to the same fate they met in Indianapolis.

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My gut tells me they'll give a decent account of themselves -- that they really are a much better team than they were a few weeks ago -- but they haven't beaten a playoff team yet and they're going to play the defending Super Bowl champions on the road.

If they pull the upset, the debate will be over. No one will be able to deny that they are a legitimate playoff contender ... and perhaps more. If they battle to a respectable loss, they'll still be more than viable. If they unravel the way they did against the Colts, then there's still reason to wonder whether they can get to nine wins with their difficult late-season schedule.

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Let's be honest. If I had told you after the Colts game that the Ravens would win four of their next five games, every one of you would have signed an ironclad contract to accept that outcome. Now they have four wins in the bank and a chance to make a major statement next weekend. Nothing wrong with that, especially with rookie quarterback Joe Flacco (shown at left about to make a throw in today's win) seeming to make a developmental leap with every game.

The thing that has impressed me the most is the way Cam Cameron has turned the Ravens' offensive game plan into a weekly guessing game for opponents. This week, Joe Flacco went vertical and Todd Heap re-emerged as a major factor downfield. Troy Smith lined up in the Suggs Package, then fooled the Texans with a standard throw for a touchdown.

It'll be tougher next week, but the Ravens seem to have new offensive weapons at their disposal every week. If the defense can hold the Giants to 20 points, the Ravens have a chance to show the rest of the league that they can beat anyone, anywhere.

The Continental: My vacation continues tomorrow on a new continent, which will limit my participation here for about 10 days. I'll pop in when I can, and my baseball teammates, Jeff Zrebiec and Dan Connolly, will drop in an item here and there to keep the well primed with Orioles info. Your comments will continue to be posted regularly, but the level of interaction will be limited. I hope everybody understands.

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