Ravens prepare for their most important road trip
No team in the NFL had a better home record than the Baltimore Ravens, who are headed to the AFC championship game on the strength of their 9-0 mark at M&T Bank Stadium.
Unfortunately, their path to the Super Bowl calls for a road trip to New England.
Baltimore (13-4) would have had home-field advantage throughout the playoffs if not for its mediocre 4-4 record on the road. The Ravens' last loss, a 34-14 rout in San Diego on Dec. 18, cost them the top seed in the AFC.
Playing as the No. 2 seed, Baltimore returned from a bye to beat the Houston Texans 20-13 at home on Sunday. That completed the Ravens' first perfect season at home. The only other team to finish unbeaten at home was New Orleans (8-0).
''It was awesome. We love being at home,'' linebacker Jarret Johnson said Monday, well aware that Baltimore's next home game will be in the preseason in August.
If the Ravens are to get to Indianapolis, site of the Super Bowl, they must beat the Patriots (14-3) in Foxborough on Sunday.
Baltimore defeated New England in the playoffs on the road after the 2009 season, but its overall record against the Patriots is 1-6 - including a 27-24 defeat in 2007 in Baltimore, a 27-21 loss in New England in 2009 and a 23-20 setback in overtime last season.
''The last four times we played them, going back to `97, all four of them have been wars,'' Johnson said. ''Even though they've won three of the four, they had to earn it. This one is not going to be any different. It's going to be an extremely intense situation and environment, and we're looking forward to it. It's going to be fun.''
Baltimore has proven it can win playoff games on the road.
In addition to that 33-14 win in New England, the Ravens won in Miami and Tennessee after the 2008 season and defeated Kansas City at Arrowhead Stadium last season.
Coach John Harbaugh hopes his team will benefit from the experience.
''I think it helps just by the fact that we've done it,'' he said. ''Most of our team has been there before. Those young guys can relate to the older guys, and the older guys can share some wisdom.
''But it's not going to impact necessarily this game except to the extent that our guys have been there before and it's certainly not going to be anything new to them. And that's a good thing.''
Harbaugh shot down two questions Monday pertaining to the team's difficulty on the road this season. Baltimore lost to Seattle, Tennessee, Jacksonville and San Diego - four teams that didn't make the playoffs and finished with a combined 29-35 record.
The Ravens did, however, win at Pittsburgh and Cincinnati, as Harbaugh was quick to point out when asked if his team was better prepared to win a big game on the road at this juncture of the season.
Harbaugh said the key to winning on the road is to avoid turnovers, and that's one big reason why the Texans failed to ruin Baltimore's unblemished record at home. Houston gave the ball away four times, and the Ravens cashed in two of those turnovers in taking a 17-3 lead.
''The four turnovers, that's big,'' Baltimore safety Bernard Pollard said. ''As a defense, we want to get the ball back to our offense.''
Safety Ed Reed, who had a key interception in the fourth quarter, was helped off the field after rolling his left ankle.
''Ed looks like he's all right,'' Harbaugh said Monday.
The Ravens will need Reed against New England quarterback Tom Brady, who pierced Denver's defense with six touchdown passes in a 45-10 rout Saturday.
Beating the Patriots on the road will be no easy task, and the oddsmakers agree: The Patriots have been made 7 1/2-point favorites to win the game and advance to the Super Bowl.
''We like being the underdog. We're used to it,'' Johnson said. ''I think we handle it better, psychologically. I don't know why, but I think we do. Should we be? I don't know. Obviously it's their place, they're the No. 1 seed, they've earned it. They're one of the top offenses in the league. They deserve to be the top team.''
Especially at home.
''Their fans are always rowdy,'' Johnson said. ''We've been in a lot of wars up there and we've only won one. We're looking to go in and win another one.''