OWINGS MILLS, Md. (AP) — No team in the NFL relies so heavily on home-field advantage like the Baltimore Ravens, whose inconsistency on the road dumped them from the driver’s seat to the curb in their quest to earn the top seed throughout the AFC playoffs.
The Ravens (10-4) are headed to the postseason for the fourth straight year under coach John Harbaugh. In each of the first three seasons, Baltimore entered as a wild-card team and never got a chance to play at home — a scenario that could occur again after the Ravens lost their grip on the No. 1 seed with Sunday night’s 34-14 defeat in San Diego.
Baltimore is 7-0 at home and 3-4 on the road. It’s by far the most glaring differential in the league, which explains why the Ravens so desperately wanted the No. 1 seed in the AFC.
The Ravens would have been assured a first-round bye and one, perhaps two, home playoff games if they beat the Chargers, Cleveland and Cincinnati over the final three weeks.
Now they’ve got to win their final two games and count on either New England or Pittsburgh losing at least once more.
“We haven’t let it get away yet, obviously, but the control of it we certainly let get away. That’s disappointing,” Harbaugh said Monday. “That’s something that we really wanted to hold onto. That was a target for us.”
Baltimore played miserably against the Chargers. The defense allowed San Diego to score on the first five possessions, the offense permitted seven sacks and Billy Cundiff’s early misfire on a 36-yard field goal try set the tone for a lamentable performance by a team that had won four in a row.
“It was just bad,” quarterback Joe Flacco said. “We just got to get back on the horse and get one next week.”
The lackluster performance took a bit of the edge off the feeling that comes with clinching another trip to the postseason,
although Harbaugh wasn’t about to gloss over the feat.
“The first thing you have to do is make the playoffs. It’s tough to do,” he said. “It’s not so much a one-week accomplishment, either. It’s what you do over the course of the season that earns you a trip into the playoffs. I’m proud of that for our team. I think that’s exciting.”
Linebacker Ray Lewis returned from a right toe injury Sunday night and found himself right in the middle of Baltimore’s worst defensive performance of the season. He wasn’t exceptionally sharp, but neither were many of his teammates.
“The disappointing part is we didn’t come out and do what we were supposed to do,” Lewis said. “Outside of that, the thought process is the same: Getting into the playoffs is the No. 1 agenda.
It’s one thing trying to get home field, but the bottom line is when you get to the playoffs, everybody’s record goes back to 0-0.”
Whether the Ravens take to the road, get a bye, play at home or — gasp! — have to travel to Pittsburgh again will be determined over the next two weeks. Baltimore’s journey into the postseason has ended at Heinz Field in two of the last three years.
“To put ourselves in the best position we still have to win our next two games, starting with the Browns,” Harbaugh said. “We have complete control over the next two weeks as far as what we do, and that’s what we need to take care of.”
The loss to San Diego loosened the Ravens’ grip on first place in the AFC North. Baltimore holds the tiebreaker with the Steelers, but Pittsburgh was in position to take a one-game lead Monday night with a victory over the San Francisco 49ers.
Because the Ravens are no longer in control of their own fate, they intended to cheer hard for the 49ers.
“We’d have been real interested for a lot of reasons anyway because it impacts our team,” Harbaugh said. “It’s going to be
interesting to see what happens. We have no control over it. We’ll be watching it. We just have to see how it goes.”
If the Ravens must travel during the postseason, then Harbaugh needs to find a solution to his team’s erratic play away from M&T Bank Stadium.
“I think the fact that we haven’t won as many games on the road as we should have is disappointing,” he said. “We’ve been
traditionally pretty good on the road the last few years. So that’s something that we have to look at, and we will.”
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)