In a season that’s been uncharacteristically unkind to the Baltimore Ravens, cross-country trips have been particularly cruel.
Venturing for a fourth game to the West this season, the Ravens look to turn around the franchise’s worst six-game start Monday night against the Arizona Cardinals.
Losses in Denver, Oakland and San Francisco have contributed to the surprising 1-5 record Baltimore brings to Arizona, as has the usual playoff contenders’ early-season inability to win tight games. The Ravens’ defeats have come by 22 points, including stinging setbacks at home to division rivals Cincinnati and Cleveland caused by blown late leads.
”It’s disappointing to lose these close games the way we’re losing them,” coach John Harbaugh said. ”The bottom line is we’re not good enough to win them right now.”
Baltimore has reached the postseason six times in Harbaugh’s seven seasons but face long odds in this one, as no team has made the playoffs under the current 16-game format when beginning 1-5.
"We have what it takes. We just have to get better, and we’re going to find a way to do it," Harbaugh said.
Harbaugh already has made one adjustment, opting to have the team fly back home following last week’s 25-20 loss to the 49ers. The Ravens stayed on the road following the season opener at Denver and lost 37-33 to the Raiders the subsequent week.
They couldn’t overcome a 13-point second-half deficit to San Francisco as Joe Flacco was intercepted twice and a suddenly porous defense allowed Colin Kaepernick to throw for a season-high 340 yards and complete three passes of 50 or more.
Those two areas have continually been problematic this season. The Ravens are yielding 286.2 passing yards per game and also rank near the bottom of the NFL with a minus-5 turnover margin.
It may be a challenge to improve in either category, as Arizona (4-2) leads the league with 11 interceptions and Carson Palmer amassed 421 passing yards against Pittsburgh last week, albeit in a frustrating 25-13 loss in which he threw two interceptions and the Cardinals had just one touchdown in four red-zone trips.
”He made a lot of throws and we made a lot of catches, but we didn’t execute very well inside the 20-yard line," coach Bruce Arians said.
Arizona, second in the NFL at 33.8 points per game, has 16 TDs in 17 red-zone appearances in its four wins and has gone 2 for 9 in its two losses.
John Brown totaled career highs of 10 catches and 196 receiving yards in the loss, though the second-year receiver will likely relinquish the pregame spotlight to teammate Larry Fitzgerald and Baltimore’s Steve Smith as the two potential Hall of Famers go head-to-head for the final time.
Both veterans have remained exceptionally productive despite their advanced age, with the 36-year-old Smith fourth in the NFL with 102.0 receiving yards per game and the 32-year-old Fitzgerald sixth overall (97.2).
The retiring Smith posted his third 100-yard effort in his last four games with a seven-catch, 137-yard performance against San Francisco. The 15-year pro did so playing through several microfractures in his back that caused him to miss the previous week’s game.
Fitzgerald’s 952 catches are one more than Smith and stand 14th on the NFL’s career list, breaking the tie by making eight for 93 yards last week.
"Their performances tells me they have a great passion, great passion for the game," said Arians. "I love the way both guys play. They’re the ultimate pros and the ultimate warriors."
The 35-year-old Palmer also continues to play at a high level, having thrown 14 touchdowns and ranking fifth in the league with a 106.9 passer rating.
"He’s just the same, excellent quarterback he has always been, and he’s doing a great job," Harbaugh said.
The Cardinals are 15-4 in Arizona under Arians but lost 24-22 at home to St. Louis in Week 4. They’ve lost four straight to the Ravens since winning the first meeting in 1997.
Baltimore also has the edge in Monday Night Football history, having gone 6-3 under Harbaugh and winning its last three games. Arizona is 7-15-1 all-time on Monday night.