Last roundup

Ravens face another obstacle in playoff hunt - Texas Stadium's final regular-season game

December 20, 2008|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,jamison.hensley@baltsun.com

IRVING, Texas - For all those conspiracy theorists who believe the NFL is out to get Baltimore - especially after Sunday's controversial finish - tonight won't change your mind.

As the Ravens make their final push toward the playoffs, they must overcome another roadblock laid down by the league.

The Ravens (9-5) play the Dallas Cowboys (9-5) in the final game scheduled at Texas Stadium, a situation in which it is usually tough to pull out a victory.

Since the beginning of the 1996 season, teams are 11-2 in the last regular-season games at their old stadiums before relocating to new ones.

"We're not too concerned about their history or their tradition," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "We respect it, and it's neat for them. We know what we got at stake for our team."

What's at stake for the Ravens is controlling their playoff position.

Though there's no scenario in which the Ravens can clinch a postseason berth this weekend, they can reach the playoffs by upsetting Dallas tonight and beating the Jacksonville Jaguars at home eight days later.

A Ravens loss coupled with wins by two of the three teams battling for the AFC East lead - the New York Jets, Miami Dolphins or New England Patriots - would put the Ravens one game behind them for the last wild-card spot heading into the final week of the regular season.

"We're not getting caught up in all of this thing that Dallas wants to do because they're closing the stadium," linebacker Ray Lewis said. "That [doesn't] have anything to do with us. We're the Ravens, they're the Cowboys. Let them take care of that. Our job is to go win a 60-minute ballgame and set up the game against Jacksonville, come home and try to get in the dance."

The Ravens understand they can't let another game like Sunday's 13-9 loss slip through their grasp or put themselves in a position in which an official's reversal from replay could cost them.

But the Ravens' first trip to Texas Stadium - they're the only current NFL team not to have played there - will be a tough one.

When a team closes a stadium, it's difficult for the visitors to beat the emotional atmosphere. When a team closes a historic stadium like this one, it has been nearly impossible.

In the past 12 seasons, the NFL has said goodbye to Baltimore's Memorial Stadium, Washington's RFK Stadium, Denver's Mile High Stadium, Pittsburgh's Three Rivers Stadium and Philadelphia's Veterans Stadium.

Not only has each home team left with a win, but the margin of victory has been 18.4 points.

"[This game] will be very important to the organization and to the fans," Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo said. "We're going into it, obviously, hoping not to end anything on a sour note at the stadium that's got so many great memories. It's been an inspiration to any of those young guys who have come in to play here to look at the tradition and see what players have [done], where certain people were at this point or did this here. It's just really exciting when you look at it."

During the game, the Cowboys will count down the five most memorable moments at Texas Stadium from 1971 to 2008.

In a post-game ceremony, nearly 100 former players and coaches - including 10 members of the Ring of Honor - will be introduced and take one last walk across the star at midfield.

"It's going to be a circus atmosphere, bringing everybody back," Ravens defensive coordinator Rex Ryan said. "But we have to focus on the 11 guys that we are going to try to defend. Our focus is we have to win this game to go to the playoffs. It doesn't matter if [former defensive end Ed] 'Too Tall' Jones is out there."

This isn't the first time the NFL has put the Ravens in a difficult situation through scheduling.

When Hurricane Ike hit Houston, the league postponed the game, forcing the Ravens to play the final 15 weeks without a bye - including a stretch of three road games in a row.

But the Ravens overcame that challenge and plan to do the same tonight.

"We definitely could have made a bunch of excuses and had a bad year," outside linebacker Jarret Johnson said. "But we haven't done that. It kind of speaks to the resiliency of the players and the coaches."

RAVENS (9-5) @ COWBOYS (9-5)

Tonight, 8:15 TV: Ch. 11, NFL Network Radio: 97.9 FM, 1090 AM Line: Cowboys by 4

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