Ravens-Raiders Preview

Mistakes were prevalent as the Baltimore Ravens let one

opportunity to clinch a wild-card spot slip away, but there’s a

second chance awaiting them Sunday when they visit an opponent

whose playoff hopes were dashed long ago.

The Oakland Raiders, however, have acquitted themselves rather

well against the AFC North’s other postseason contenders.

It’s win and in for the Ravens when they visit the Raiders, who

will be looking to again play the role of spoiler in a battle of

the AFC’s two most penalized teams.

Baltimore (8-7) came into Pittsburgh last Sunday off two

victories in which it outscored Detroit and Chicago 79-10, and a

season sweep of the Steelers would have put the Ravens in the

playoffs.

But they committed 11 penalties that cost them 113 yards and two

touchdowns, and Derrick Mason dropped a sure TD in the fourth

quarter, all leading to a 23-20 loss.

“Forget about this one. It’s over and done with,” Mason said.

“We just have to prepare for the next one. That’s all that matters.

We win, we’re in. That’s our philosophy. I’ve forgotten about this

one; it’s done and over with.”

While a win against the Raiders (5-10) puts the Ravens in, a

loss would eliminate them.

Mason surpassed 1,000 yards for the third straight season, but

Baltimore cracked the 1,000-yard barrier in a less glamorous

category – penalty yardage. Penalties have cost the Ravens an

NFL-high 1,057 yards, and with 11 more yards lost against Oakland

they’ll break the franchise record.

“It was irritating. All of us felt that,” coach John Harbaugh

said. “We played too well in so many ways for the outcome to be

what it was. Why was the outcome what it was? Well, it was our

doing. It was penalties and missed opportunities. But those are

things we can fix.”

The Raiders are no strangers to penalties hurting their cause.

Oakland has been flagged 36 times for 306 yards over the past three

weeks to raise its total to an AFC-high 112.

Charlie Frye threw three interceptions, two players were ejected

and 13 penalties cost the Raiders a season-high 126 yards last

Sunday in Cleveland. Oakland lost 23-9 despite outgaining the

Browns by more than 100 yards.

“I’ve never seen flags thrown like that,” said Pro Bowl

defensive lineman Richard Seymour, who was called for two personal

fouls on one play. “It was so ticky-tack. Obviously we have to

understand how the game is being played and how the game is being

called and play accordingly. We didn’t do a good job of that after

we understood that they were going to throw it if you looked the

wrong way.”

The Raiders have given two of the Ravens’ AFC North rivals fits

this season. Bruce Gradkowski engineered a comeback in the final 2

minutes to beat division-champion Cincinnati 20-17 on Nov. 22, then

threw three fourth-quarter TDs – each putting Oakland ahead – in a

27-24 win at Pittsburgh on Dec. 6.

Gradkowski, however, partially tore the MCL in his right knee a

week later, and Frye has compiled a 49.2 passer rating in two

starts since. Gradkowski is listed as doubtful for Sunday and

former No. 1 overall pick JaMarcus Russell appears relegated to the

bench.

Frye, who threw for 333 yards last week, has experience facing

Baltimore. He posted an 80.5 rating with two TDs and two

interceptions in a pair of starts against the Ravens with Cleveland

in 2006.

Baltimore’s banged-up secondary is without cornerbacks Fabian

Washington and Ladarius Webb – both lost for the season – and

All-Pro safety Ed Reed hasn’t played since Nov. 29 with a slight

tear in his groin.

Reed is listed as a game-time decision but isn’t expected to

play.

Joe Flacco has thrown seven touchdown passes – four to tight end

Todd Heap – and one interception over the past three weeks, but the

Ravens will likely spend much of their time looking to exploit

Oakland’s 29th-ranked rush defense.

Though the Raiders have held their opponents to 3.4 yards per

carry over their past three games, they’ll have their hands full

with Ray Rice. The second-year back topped 100 yards rushing for

the second time in three weeks with 141 against the Steelers, and

he also has a team-high 74 receptions – two more than Mason.

Rice is second behind Tennessee’s Chris Johnson with 1,952 yards

from scrimmage.

“Ray gets better all the time,” Harbaugh said. “He’s taken a lot

of reps throughout the course of the season, so to me, Ray’s just

getting stronger as the season goes on.”

In Harbaugh’s two seasons at the helm, Baltimore hasn’t lost to

a sub-.500 team. That included a 29-10 home victory over Oakland on

Oct. 26, 2008, in which Rice had 155 all-purpose yards.

The Ravens have visited Oakland twice, winning only in the AFC

championship game after the 2000 season en route to the franchise’s

only Super Bowl title.

For now, they’re just trying to get in.

“We’ve got an opportunity to get in the tournament,” Harbaugh

said. “To me, that’s motivation enough. I’m sure our guys will be

ready.”