Ravens must improve on road to sustain momentum

The Baltimore Ravens showed their resiliency against the

Minnesota Vikings, rallying three times in the fourth quarter to

squeeze out another close victory at home.

They defending Super Bowl champions will need all of that

resolve to survive a very difficult schedule down the stretch.

With a three-touchdown flurry over the final 125 seconds Sunday,

the Ravens beat Minnesota 29-26 for their third straight win – all

at home. The victory kept Baltimore (7-6) in front of Miami, San

Diego and the New York Jets in the race for the final AFC wild-card

slot.

Next up: A visit to Detroit for a Monday Night duel against the

Lions.

”It’s going to be tough. We’ve got to be ready, we’ve got to be

at our best,” coach John Harbaugh said Monday. ”We’ll have to

play the best we’ve played all year.”

That’s because Baltimore is 6-1 at home and 1-5 on the road –

the lone win coming at Miami on Oct. 6. Following the game in

Detroit, the Ravens host New England before closing out the regular

season in Cincinnati.

It’s not an easy path, and the first step is particularly

dangerous. The Lions lead the NFC Central and are 4-2 at Ford

Field, a domed stadium filled with enthusiastic fans.

At least it will be dry, unlike snowy M&T Stadium on

Sunday.

”I don’t think indoor, outdoor means much. For us, it won’t

matter,” Harbaugh said. ”We’ve been in weather; I don’t think

we’ve been in a dome yet. The crowd noise is going to be a factor.

It’s Monday Night Football. It’s going to be loud. It’s a hugely

important game for both teams.”

The last time the Ravens played in a dome, they beat the San

Francisco 49ers in the Super Bowl. That, however, was a neutral

setting. The last time Baltimore was the visiting team in a dome,

the Houston Texans administered a 43-13 lashing in 2012.

Winning on the road, in good weather or bad, has been the

Ravens’ biggest challenge this year. The trend began with a 49-27

defeat in Denver, followed by a 23-20 defeat in Buffalo. The win at

Miami was followed by a 19-16 loss at Pittsburgh, a 24-18

disappointment in Cleveland and a 23-20 overtime defeat in

Chicago.

Asked to explain the disparity in his team’s play, Harbaugh

said, ”I think we’ve won the close games at home and we haven’t

won them on the road. That’s the bottom line. We’ve done the things

we needed to do to win tight games at home and we haven’t done the

things we’ve needed to do on the road. It’s us.”

Baltimore nearly let a home win get away Sunday, blowing leads

of 7-6, 15-12, 22-19 in the fourth quarter. Although the defense

has played well this season, it’s had a problem closing out a solid

performance.

”I’m concerned about it. That’s the biggest issue we have right

now on defense,” Harbaugh said. ”That’s something we have to be

better at, just doing the right things in those situations.”

At least the Ravens have momentum. Sure, their longest winning

streak of the season was the product of a three-game homestand, but

Baltimore is back over .500 for the first time since the Miami

game.

”We’re starting to get healthier. We’re starting to put it

together as a team,” quarterback Joe Flacco said. ”We just need

to start putting it together for a full 60 minutes and see where it

takes us.”

Linebacker Elvis Dumervil, who leads the team with 9 1/2 sacks,

was inactive against the Vikings with a sprained left ankle but

could be ready for the Lions, Harbaugh said.

Wide receiver Brandon Stokley left Sunday’s game with a

concussion, and there’s some question as to whether he will be

ready next Monday night.

”He’ll go through the concussion protocol,” Harbaugh said.

”We’ll have to see how it shakes out. Unfortunately, he’s had a

number of those in his career, so it could be problematic for

us.”

AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org