Ravens season to open with tough road games

Ravens travel for four of first six games, with three of those games against 2009 playoff teams

September 05, 2010|By Jamison Hensley | The Baltimore Sun

If this year is truly the Ravens' road to the Super Bowl, they must prove they can survive the road at the beginning of the season.

With one of the most brutal starts in the NFL this season, the Ravens travel for four of their first six games. To make the challenge even greater, three of those road games are against 2009 playoff teams (the New York Jets, Cincinnati Bengals and New England Patriots) who went to the playoffs last season and the other happens to be at the Ravens' chief AFC North rival (the Pittsburgh Steelers).

"Really, that was the primary purpose having a great training camp because of who we're playing on the road," coach John Harbaugh said. "We have an opportunity to take control of this conference, and that's our goal."

The Sept. 13 season opener is against the Jets at the Meadowlands, where emotions will be heightened because it's Monday Night Football as well as the Jets' first game at their new stadium. The Ravens then have a short week of preparation (because the opener is on Monday night) leading up to their trip to Cincinnati, where the Ravens have lost four out of the last five times.

This marks the first time in the Ravens' 15-year history that they play their first two games on the road.

After their home opener against the Cleveland Browns, the Ravens head on Oct. 3 to Pittsburgh's Heinz Field, which has historically been the toughest place for the Ravens to win. Since becoming the first team to win there, the Ravens have gone 1-9 at Heinz, losing the last four trips (including the AFC Championship game two seasons ago).

The Ravens play the Denver Broncos at home before going to New England on Oct. 17. It was earlier this year that the Ravens ambushed the Patriots at home in the playoffs, but New England has a 59-13 (.819) record at Gilllette Stadium.

"If you start out hot early, especially playing on the road against good teams, that's going to build so much confidence," linebacker Jarret Johnson said. "If we can go in and beat these teams, we can go anywhere. At the same time, if we go in and drop a few of those games, it's going to set us back and that's one place where we don't want to be. We're going to hit it hard early in the season and we're going to find out a lot about ourselves."

Under Harbaugh, the Ravens have done an admirable job away from home. Their road record is 11-10 (including the playoffs).

But the first four road opponents — the Jets, Bengals, Steelers and Patriots last season — won 75 percent of their home games last season.

Asked about this imposing stat, defensive end Cory Redding pointed to the first three days of training camp, when the Ravens had two contact practices for the first three days.

"In this whole training camp mode, we were trying to build that identity of the team we want to be in 2010, build that sense of toughness," Redding said. "With that being said, let's start the damn season off with these road games. That is going to be a true test of where we're at."

Some Ravens fans don't believe this "test" is coincidental.

In the Ravens' 2000 Super Bowl season, the NFL schedule makers made the Ravens play five of their first seven games on the road. In 2008, as the result of Hurricane Ike hitting Houston, the league decided to postpone the game (forcing the Ravens to play 15 straight weeks) instead of relocating it to New Orleans or Atlanta.

And last season, the Ravens were the only AFC North team that had to play three teams coming off their bye week.

Still, Harbaugh said he doesn't buy into any NFL conspiracy theory against the Ravens.

"You play eight [games] on the road and eight at home," Harbaugh said. "Everybody has to do that, so they can't get around that one. We'll play our share of home games."

Those share of home games comes in the stretch run of the regular season. Four of the Ravens' six final games are at M&T Bank Stadium.

"We know toward the end of the season, people are going to have to start coming to Baltimore," cornerback Fabian Washington said.

Playing late-season games at home is preferable, according wide receiver Derrick Mason.

"Would you rather be at the end of the year in New England or in New York or back here at home, where the weather is better," he asked. "I would rather be here than those places at the end of the year. So, [the schedule] balances itself out."

jamison.hensley@baltsun.com

Twitter.com/jamisonhensley

The Ravens start the season by playing four of their first six games on the road. A look at those first four road opponents:

Date ; Team ; '09 rec. ; '09 home rec.

Sept. 13 ; N.Y. Jets* ; 9-7 ; 4-4 ;

Sept. 19 ; Cincinnati* ; 10-6 ; 6-2 ;

Oct. 3 ; Pittsburgh ; 9-7 ; 6-2 ;

Oct. 17 ; New England* ; 10-6 ; 8-0 ;

* -- Made playoffs last season

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