Road work ahead for Ravens

The Baltimore Sun

The Ravens' first road trip of the season was a turnover-filled loss in Cincinnati to ex-Ravens defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis.

Their second away game was a self-proclaimed "butt-whupping" in Cleveland, compliments of former Ravens quarterback Derek Anderson and running back Jamal Lewis.

Today against the 49ers (2-2) in San Francisco, the Ravens (2-2) will try to find a winning path on what has become a treacherous ride along memory lane. In the way of the Ravens this time is their one-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback, Trent Dilfer, and another former defensive coordinator, Mike Nolan.

Still, whether it's a nostalgic trip or a cross-country one, the challenge remains the same.

"It's always hard playing on the road," quarterback Steve McNair said. "It's like you've got your back against the wall and you've just got to come out fighting."

After being one of the best road teams a year ago, the Ravens have become one of the worst this season because of sloppiness.

In a 27-20 loss in Cincinnati, the Ravens committed six turnovers, and the Bengals converted four of those into 24 points. Two turnovers led to Browns touchdowns in a 27-13 loss in Cleveland.

Linebacker Ray Lewis said the Ravens must take a certain attitude on their longest trip of the season if they want to capture their first road victory of the season.

"It's you - all 53 men and your coaches that you go out there with - that's all you have," Lewis said. "You can't look for anybody to help you. You can't look for any enthusiasm. You've got to create your energy because everything is going to be hostile."

No one knows the difference between playing at home and on the road more than McNair.

In his only home game this season, he completed 74 percent of his passes and threw a touchdown for a rating of 106.7. In his two road appearances, he completed 62 percent of his throws but committed five turnovers (three fumbles and two interceptions) for a rating of 72.5.

The Ravens lost 11 straight games away from home from November 2004 to the end of the 2005 season. But last year they won six of eight road games, with an average margin of victory of 12.7 points.

Just when it seemed as if the Ravens had gotten past their roadblock, they experienced another reversal of fortune this season and have yet to hold one lead on the road.

Asked whether he noticed a difference in the Ravens on the road this season compared with 2006, receiver Derrick Mason said: "No, I've noticed a difference about other teams. Whenever you go 13-3, teams are going to play you. Teams are going to analyze what you do in the offseason [and] really [home] in on what you like to do in certain areas. They're going to come back the following year and pretty much try and take away what you do best."

Ravens coach Brian Billick tries to change the schedule as little as possible. The team leaves for West Coast trips on Fridays, but Billick asks the players to stay on East Coast time, meaning curfew is 9 p.m. local time.

One player who doesn't seem to mind the travel is running back Willis McGahee. Playing for the Buffalo Bills in 2004, he ran for 116 yards and four touchdowns in Seattle against the Seahawks, and for 102 yards and two touchdowns in San Francisco.

"The trip's not going to hold me down," McGahee said. "You know me. I'm going to go out there and have fun, do what I do. It's not going to be such a big toll on us, to tell you the truth. We know how to carry ourselves. At the nighttime when we get there, we've just got to be in bed at a certain time."

The basic formula to get to the playoffs is sweep your eight home games and split on the road to reach 12 victories. A team that wins just a couple of road games in that scenario can be in the playoff hunt. But to reach the postseason, at least one road win is usually mandatory.

Asked about the importance of winning on the road to make the playoffs, Billick said: "You can't do without it. It's tough when you have to go over there. That would make this doubly sweet if we could go to the West Coast under these circumstances and get a road win. That's very, very important."

Even before the Ravens took the seven-hour flight, they caught their first break on the road.

Already ranked last in the NFL in offense, the 49ers will be without quarterback Alex Smith (shoulder), tight end Vernon Davis (knee) and left tackle Jonas Jennings (personal matters).

But if the Ravens have learned anything about the road this season, it's that they can't overlook anyone.

"To tell you the truth, I'd play Dundalk and McDonogh right now. I'm just trying to get a victory," linebacker Bart Scott said. "I'm trying to be 3-2, and I really don't care who it is. You can't buy into all that their offense is struggling. I don't want to hear that stuff; we're struggling. We're trying to get a victory, and it's on the road. Hopefully, we can get one."

Note -- The Ravens released kicker Rhys Lloyd yesterday and signed rookie wide receiver Matt Willis off their practice squad. Lloyd, who had been expected to handle kickoffs to keep Matt Stover's leg fresh, was inactive all four games.

Road woes

How the Ravens have fared at home and on the road:

Category Home Road

Record 2-0 0-2

Points scored 46 33

TDs scored 4 3

Interceptions thrown 0 3

Fumbles lost 1 5

Points allowed 36 54

TDs allowed 3 6

Turnovers forced 3 3

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