After helpless San Diego showing, Ravens now need familiar help down stretch

December 19, 2011 | Luke Jones

After helpless San Diego showing, Ravens now need familiar help down stretch

With the Ravens suffering a 34-14 beating at the hands of the surging San Diego Chargers, much will be written and opined as they try to quickly move past arguably the worst loss of the John Harbaugh era.

Can a secondary that had fared so beautifully throughout the season pick itself up off the ground after San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers picked it apart throughout the night?

Are Joe Flacco and the Ravens capable of keeping up in a high-scoring affair in the postseason against a high-octane passing attack like New England or — (gulp) — the Chargers again?

Will the road woes of kicker Billy Cundiff doom the Ravens at a critical juncture in January?

All are valid questions despite the 10-4 Ravens officially finding themselves in the postseason thanks to losses suffered by the Tennessee Titans, New York Jets, and Oakland Raiders on Sunday. Ironically, on the day they clinched their fourth straight playoff berth, the Ravens now find themselves in another all-too-familiar place at this juncture of the season.

Needing help to improve their postseason positioning.

Two victories over the Pittsburgh Steelers had the Ravens poised to secure their first AFC North title since 2006 and to possibly earn the No. 1 seed and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. Instead, the Ravens’ inability to win on the road in the regular season may now send them away from M&T Bank Stadium, as they have been for the last three postseasons.

Just as their fans will, the Ravens will now watch the San Francisco 49ers try to knock off Pittsburgh on Monday night to put Baltimore back in the driver seat of the division race.

It’s an uncomfortable feeling. A helpless one, in fact.

But it’s one of their own doing after four road losses — all coming against teams with losing records at the time — in which the Ravens played so poorly that there’s too much blame to simply pinpoint one area or individual. It goes beyond the play-calling of Cam Cameron, the erratic play of Joe Flacco, or miscommunication in the defense.

Save for a near-miraculous comeback win in Pittsburgh and victories over substandard St. Louis and Cleveland, Baltimore just can’t find its mojo with any semblance of consistency when it ventures away from the friendly confines of Russell Street.

Credit the Chargers for putting together the kind of performance people expected from the consensus pick to win the AFC West entering the season. The Ravens lost to a great quarterback and a surging football team on Sunday night — one that should be much better than its 7-7 record indicates — but the way in which they were utterly dominated in all phases of the game stirs pregnant pause.

Of course, the Ravens are still a very good football team holding a 10-4 record. It’s important not to overreact to such an alarming loss just like their heroics in Pittsburgh didn’t assure them of a championship, either.

But Sunday night’s performance was a humbling reminder of how difficult it can be to beat quality teams on the road, even in the regular season. The scary reality is the Ravens are now faced with the prospects of having to do it again — multiple times — in January if they want to reach their ultimate goal of the Super Bowl in Indianapolis.

Baltimore has certainly proven to be as capable as anyone in doing so after winning four road playoff games over the last three seasons. But, the Ravens have fallen short of the Super Bowl each time, pointing to their need to play games at M&T Bank Stadium where they have won 17 of their last 18 games and are a perfect 7-0 in 2011.

The Ravens had their chance to keep that desire firmly in their hands before Rivers and the Chargers ripped it away emphatically by scoring 34 points and accumulating 415 yards of offense on Sunday night.

Baltimore will recover and take care of business against Cleveland next Saturday before heading out on the road again to take on the Cincinnati Bengals, who still find themselves in the playoff hunt. The health of cornerback Lardarius Webb, who was limited to nickel-package duty, linebacker Ray Lewis, and Cundiff will be closely monitored. Two wins aren’t assured, but are reasonably expected even after such a deflating defeat.

But the Ravens will also find themselves looking around for a helping hand — or two. Without the assistance, they’ll again be playing away from M&T Bank Stadium in January.

Where the road to Indianapolis is that much harder.

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5 Comments For This Post

  1. JAMES Says:

    Hey Luke,
    This is for all callers who will Bash Joe This week. The reason why Drew Brees , Tom Brady and Phillip Rivers won yesterday is because they weren’t sacked 7 times. Joe can make any play and any throw if he has time to snap the ball and go through his progressions. Brady and Brees have all day to make a play and poor Joe always seems to be running for his life. As good as our O line can be it still doesn’t add up to what the Patriots and the Saints have. Flacco is still young enough hopefully he will have stronger line someday so he can flaunt his talents

    (L.J. – It was definitely one of many problems last night.)

  2. Cliff Says:

    Back in the old days there was a team by the name of the Chicago Cardinals. They were lucky to win 2 or 3 games a year; but their best game of the year was always against the George Halas-led mighty Chicago Bears. The Cardinals often won against the Bears.

    Back in 2007 when the ‘no offense imagination’ Billick led the injury-plagued Ravens against the unbeatable Patriots; the Ravens had them whooped until Ryan called that unfortunate time-out.

    It always makes a season for some less fortunate team when they beat a more powerful team, like the Ravens, Patriots, Steelers and the Packers. (See Kansas City, Dec. 18.2011)

    The Ravens were supposed to handle the Colts back in 2006 when the Ravens had their playoff game here in Baltimore. The Colts were coming here after giving up mega-yardage rushing against other inferior teams. The defense for the Colts on that day resembled the defense of the ’85 Bears or the ’00 Ravens!

    So maybe, just maybe, the Ravens will play in the playoffs this season on the road, as opposed to comfortable home games, and they will forget they’re not supposed to win on the road, and surprise all of us experts and win it all! Who knows? This has been one of THOSE seasons.

    (L.J. – Thanks for commenting, Cliff, and you’re spot on about it being one of “those” seasons. Let’s remember Green Bay barely sneaked in the playoffs last season. Doesn’t mean it will happen for the Ravens if they must go on the road, but this season is unpredictable with yesterday being the perfect snapshot.)

  3. jpetrosino Says:

    Our offense has been our achilies heel for our 16-year history. Despite some of the highly touted named players on offense, we never had an offense that can carry the team especially when games counted. I think we need to start looking at Ozzy who is the architect of the team and question his ability to get the QB of the future that can win games when things are not going well on D or Special Teams. The receipe to beat the Raven’s is simple: Contain Ray Rice, period. Very one dimensional.

  4. Franchise Says:

    Let’s Go Niners!!!!

  5. paul Says:

    as much as you guys beat up the orioles for gettting passes from other station u guys have been doing the sam with flacco and the ravens because of your “buisness deals with the team”. Its. really sad. Flaccos counterpart showed wah flacco really is a very mediocre non playmaking quarterback. hes a joke with a (*word deleted by editor*) mustache

    (L.J. – I understand this comment wasn’t directed at me personally, but this stance is absurd. If you’re not a believer in Flacco, that’s fine, but to suggest the Ravens are getting a pass? Four straight postseason appearances, eight playoff berths, and a Super Bowl title over the last 14 years compared to the Orioles over that same stretch of time? Even if you want to consider it a “pass”, they’re certainly more deserving of it than the Orioles. You need to try harder than that.)

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