(AP) — The Baltimore Ravens easily dispatched one struggling NFC South team last week and will get to face another in their return home.
The Ravens try to send Atlanta to a fourth consecutive defeat Sunday as the Falcons begin the longest stretch without a true home game in franchise history.
Baltimore (4-2) led 38-0 at halftime last Sunday at Tampa Bay en route to a 48-17 victory. Joe Flacco became the first player to have four touchdowns passes in the first quarter since Minnesota’s Tommy Kramer in 1986 and finished with a career-high five in a matchup with the one-win Buccaneers.
Flacco had the best quarterback rating of his career (146.0) and matched a season high with a 72.4 completion percentage after connecting on 57.9 percent of his attempts in a 20-13 loss in Indianapolis the previous week.
The Ravens also got a season-high 111 yards on 14 carries from Justin Forsett, who is fifth in the league with 408 yards and has done a fine job in replacing the suspended Ray Rice. It was Forsett’s first 100-yard game since 2009.
Steve Smith caught five passes for 110 yards, including a 56-yard score, and topped 100 yards for the fourth time in six games with Baltimore.
“You’re going to find out this is a very good football team,” coach John Harbaugh said. “And to play the way we did in a game that’s kind of a business game, a game we need to win to do the things we want to do, it speaks a lot to who we are as a football team.”
Seeking a third straight home win, Baltimore tries to send Atlanta to a sixth consecutive road loss. The Falcons (2-4), who haven’t lost seven straight road games since Oct. 1, 2000-Sept. 9, 2001, are 1-10 away from the Georgia Dome since the beginning of last season.
They will play their next four games outside of Atlanta, which includes an Oct. 26 matchup against Detroit in London, a game in which the Falcons are the designated home team. They won’t play in the Georgia Dome until Nov. 23.
“We’ve got a tough stretch coming up,” quarterback Matt Ryan said. “We can’t worry about it. We can’t complain about it. We’ve got to find a way to get it done.”
Atlanta is coming off last Sunday’s 27-13 home loss to Chicago, gaining a season-low 287 yards, 42 on the ground. Ryan connected on 51.4 percent of his passes, his worst showing in three seasons, with his receivers dropping at least seven of those.
The Falcons’ defense also continued to struggle, giving up 478 yards and a season-worst 368 through the air, while letting the Bears pull away in the final 21 minutes. Atlanta ranks near the bottom in the league with 28.3 points, 419.0 yards and 277.7 passing yards allowed per game.
“I’m frustrated, discouraged, disappointed,” coach Mike Smith said. “I know we can play a whole lot better than we’ve played.”
The Falcons have also been outscored a combined 49-0 in the fourth quarter in the last four games. The Ravens have outscored their opponents 38-14 in that period while winning four of five.
“We’re close, but we need to finish,” Atlanta center Peter Konz said. “That’s what we’re focused on – finishing.”
Despite the Falcons’ struggles, Harbaugh remains wary of their skill players. Julio Jones has been targeted an NFL-high 69 times and is third in the league with 620 receiving yards. Steven Jackson has a team-high 263 rushing yards for the Falcons, who are ninth in the NFL averaging 4.6 yards per carry.
“Atlanta’s good. They’re going to be on turf, so they’re going to be fast,” Harbaugh said. “They’ve got big, fast receivers. They’ve got fast running backs, and they got a quarterback that drives the whole thing. That’s an explosive football team, and we’ve got to be ready for them.”
There’s a chance Harbaugh could get some help in that attempt to stop the Falcons. Safety Will Hill is eligible to return from a six-game suspension and could play this week.
Baltimore and Atlanta have split their four all-time meetings with the Falcons taking a 26-21 win most recently in 2010. Ryan’s third touchdown pass with 20 seconds to go provided the victorious margin, and Flacco also had three TDs.
The Ravens won the lone game in Baltimore, 24-10 in 2006.
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