Commentary: Ravens ready for tough stretch

Running back Ray Rice carries for a touchdown in the first half of the Ravens' 55-20 win over the Oakland Raiders at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore on Sunday.
Running back Ray Rice carries for a touchdown in the first half of the Ravens' 55-20 win over the Oakland Raiders at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore on Sunday. (DYLAN SLAGLE/STAFF PHOTO , Carroll County Times)

The Ravens were laughing and whooping it up on the sideline, and even coach John Harbaugh allowed himself a smile after punter/holder Sam Koch ran for a touchdown on a fake field goal to cap an easy day at the office for the AFC North leaders.

The Raiders provided even less resistance than was expected and the Ravens offense clicked as it has all year at home - but never seems to on the road - putting away Sunday's 55-20 win very early to give the team and its fans a little extra time to contemplate next week's huge matchup at Pittsburgh.

Not that they hadn't been already.

"We focused all week on the Raiders," tackle Michael Oher said, "but in the back of our minds, we knew the Steelers were coming."

Baltimore began the second half of the season by setting a franchise record for points scored in a game and improving to 7-2. Still, the Ravens are pretty difficult to get a read on.

Six of their seven wins have come against teams with losing records, with five of those seven coming at home. The AFC is loaded with bad teams and they've taken advantage by beating the worst of the bunch - Kansas City, Cleveland twice, and now Oakland.

They know not everyone is sold on them, not that they care.

"People can say what they want to say, but we feel good about where we're at," tight end Dennis Pitta said after making five catches for 67 yards and a touchdown.

How they are perceived is not entirely their fault. This isn't college, so they don't control their schedule, and they did beat a good New England team in Week 3. But it's hard to ignore how bad they looked in Houston, how ugly things got in Cleveland after the first two drives, and how lucky they were to win in Kansas City.

No one is quite sure why it's so difficult for them to take the Joe Flacco Aerial Show on the road.

"I honestly don't have that answer," Harbaugh said.

Added Flacco: "I honestly don't think about it too much because it's just happened to work out that way."

But it needs to work out in a different way with four of the Ravens' final seven games on the road, including the next two. If they're able to win at Pittsburgh this week and at San Diego the following week they'll have a chance to essentially wrap up the division title at home in Week 12.

To do so, they'll need to get the offense cranking up in Heinz Field and Qualcomm Stadium the way it does at M&T Bank Stadium.

The Ravens essentially score twice as often in Baltimore. They average 34.6 points at home and just 17.5 on the road. At home, they're 5-0 this season, winning 15 in a row overall and having lost only five in the five years Harbaugh, Flacco, and Ray Rice have been with the Ravens.

"You don't let anybody run in your front door and stomp on your yard," Rice said. "We like to ... keep our front yard clean. And we did that. Nobody had to call the landlord."

Yes, but can they go into someone else's yard and make it their own?

The great thing is, all the conjecture ends now. Their final seven games will allow them to either prove themselves as division champions and worthy Super Bowl contenders or expose them as the beneficiaries of a soft early schedule. Assuming the Steelers beat the Chiefs on Monday Night Football, the combined record of the Ravens' opponents in their first nine games is 33-48. The mark for the teams in the final seven is 33-29 and includes five playoff teams from last season, including the Super Bowl champion Giants, and five that are still in serious contention for the postseason this year.

"We have to buckle our chin straps," said Jacoby Jones, after registering his team-record second kickoff return for a touchdown this season, "and go play football."

Reach writer Bob Blubaugh at 410-857-7895 or bob.blubaugh@carrollcountytimes.com.