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OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The travel pattern has been virtually uninterrupted for the Baltimore Ravens whenever they leave town. The football team boards a big, chartered airplane, enjoying a feast of gourmet food, spacious seating and perhaps a friendly game of cards.
They land, grab their luggage, hop onto a bus led by a police escort and check into a nice hotel for meals, meetings and sleep.
The itinerary hasn’t been problematic, just the results on the field.
As the Ravens visit the Metrodome tonight to play the Minnesota Vikings in their third preseason game, they’ll have another agenda beyond fixing the red-zone problems that plagued an otherwise-effective offense a week ago.
The Ravens haven’t won a regular-season road game since November 14, 2004 when they exited The Meadowlands with an overtime victory over the New York Jets. Winning a preseason road game would represent a step in the right direction.
“I can barely remember the last time we won on the road,” linebacker Adalius Thomas said. “That Jets game seems like a lifetime ago, but you can’t think about that. We want to get back to business on the road."
Twenty-one months after beating the Jets, the Ravens remain on a quest for a win outside the familiar environment of M&T Bank Stadium. The eleven consecutive road losses include defeats to: New England, Indianapolis, Pittsburgh twice, Tennessee, Detroit, Chicago, Jacksonville, Cincinnati, Denver and Cleveland.
There are very few answers or theories as to why the Ravens have struggled away from M&T Bank Stadium, where they finished 6-2 in 2005, while going 0-8 on the road last season.
“It’s like anything,” Ravens coach Brian Billick said. “Players have got to create a routine for themselves, how we travel, what are you going to do the day of the game. We scrutinize it like we do everything, and you have to play well on the road to do well in this league, and that includes the preseason.
“When you are playing well, you win at home and you win on the road. When you’re not playing well, you don’t win at home and you don’t win on the road. It’s pretty much that simple.”
Baltimore was outscored 194-110 away on the road last season. To a man, players dismissed the notion that the road streak has gotten into their heads.
“I don’t believe in jinxes or curses,” wide receiver Devard Darling said. “These things usually happen in cycles.”
Meanwhile, the Ravens’ checklist for tonight is lengthy with talent evaluation penciled in as the top priority.
Although rookie Dawan Landry has basically won the starting safety job over Gerome Sapp, the Ravens are still trying to determine which one of their struggling punting candidates (rookie Sam Koch and Leo Araguz) will win the job. There’s also the competition for the third wide receiver job contested by Darling, Demetrius Williams and Clarence Moore, who returns tonight from a sports hernia.
Plus, the Ravens have to cut nine players by Tuesday.
“You’ve got to show some way you belong in this league,” Billick said. “Practice is great and you get an inclination, but if it doesn’t show up on the game field, I’m not sure what the value is."
Getting newcomer running back Mike Anderson on track is another goal. He has gained only 25 rushing yards on eight carries while being slowed by a minor concussion and foot sprain. He’s expected to start in the absence of Jamal Lewis, who’s out with a strained left hip flexor until the Ravens’ Sept. 10 opener against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
“I’m just looking to get in a rhythm and finish some runs,” Anderson said. “I’m still getting used to the offense and it’s starting to feel comfortable.”
The Ravens’ first-string offense struggled markedly in the red zone last week against the Philadelphia Eagles even though quarterback Steve McNair completed 14 of 18 passes. “We just need to concentrate and finish drives to build on what we’ve been doing offensively,” McNair said. “It’s pretty basic stuff: execute and score points. It’s the little things that we need to work on.”
Starters are slated to play the entire first half with the exception of All-Pro offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden, who’s expected to see 12 to 15 snaps in his preseason debut following his father’s death. The first-string rarely makes more than a token appearance in the final preseason game.
“This is probably our last dress rehearsal,” linebacker Bart Scott said. “We’ve got to have a good showing together for something to build on going into Tampa Bay.”
Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times in Westminster, Maryland.