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Ravens try to follow map for a road win

January 01, 2006|By TOM WITHERS

CLEVELAND -

Before heading home for the offseason, the Baltimore Ravens have some unfinished road work to complete.

The Ravens, whose late-season turnaround saved coach Brian Billick's job for at least another year, will face the Browns today with an 0-7 record outside of Baltimore this season.

Tack on three straight road losses to end last season, and the Ravens have lost 10 straight away from home since Nov. 14, 2004, when they beat the playoff-bound New York Jets 20-17 in overtime.

For the verbose and vivacious Billick, about to complete his seventh and most trying season with the Ravens, that's unacceptable.

"Winning on the road is pivotal to success in the NFL and it's something we have to address," Billick said. "The last road win was at the Jets, a playoff team last year. Since then, 12 of the 14 road games we've played against playoff teams. That's not making excuses. That's just a fact, which we haven't been up to."

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For Ravens quarterback Kyle Boller, whose improvement in recent weeks undoubtedly factored into Billick getting owner Steve Bisciotti's vote of confidence, the season finale has a little more meaning because of Baltimore's road woes.

"It's really big," said Boller, who has thrown for at least 250 yards in three of his past four starts. "We get so sick of walking through that airport coming back and having a loss. We want to end this season on a high note."

Following their embarrassing 41-0 loss to Pittsburgh, the Browns, too, are looking for a final flourish.

The Steelers nearly wrecked the holidays for Cleveland and its fans, who by game's end on Christmas Eve had abandoned Browns Stadium, leaving it in the hands of Pittsburgh's towel-waving crazies.

As the Browns (5-10) trudged disgustedly off the field that afternoon, only one thing gave them solace.

"We have another game to erase that memory," said cornerback Leigh Bodden. "We need to end on a good note and show what this team is really all about. We need to show the league that that's not the type of team we are."

It's hard to get a handle on what type the Ravens (6-9) are.

After starting 2-6 and putting Billick on the hot seat, Baltimore has rebounded by winning four of six. With Boller throwing three TD passes in each game, the Ravens have won their last two - against Green Bay and Minnesota - by a combined 78-26.

In the two victories, Boller is 43-for-61 for 542 yards with six TDs and only one interception. The former first-round draft pick has finally figured out something, he's just not sure what it is.

"I can't really pinpoint one thing," he said. "I just took the game plan for Green Bay, went over it and figured out where I wanted to go with the ball versus all different coverages. I don't know, maybe good things happen. I just feel like I've turned the corner."

And not a moment too soon for Billick, 51, whose job security seemed in question before Bisciotti's unexpected announcement he will stay the course with the coach who brought Baltimore a Super Bowl title in 2000.

If they are ever to get back there, the Ravens have to figure out how to win on the road again. They've had three close calls this season, losing by four points at Chicago, by one at Pittsburgh and by two at Denver on Dec. 11.

Billick knows the road to championships is one well traveled.

"Until you can beat a playoff team on the road, you're not going to be a playoff team," said Billick, who is 32-31 in the regular season since 2002. "I've always said the toughest thing any team has to do is win on the road in the NFL because of the limited number of games and what that represents."

The Browns have their own dubious streak to end Sunday. With an 0-5 record in the AFC North, they're down to their last chance to win a division game. The Browns have never gone winless inside their division since joining the NFL in 1950.

Romeo Crennel understands the value of winning the final game, but like the blowout loss to Pittsburgh, Cleveland's first-year coach doesn't want to attach too much meaning to it.

"I'm not going to measure a season by one game," Crennel said. "When you get knocked down, how do you get back up and respond the next time out?"

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