Home field is necessity for Ravens

Torrey Smith and the Ravens have to figure out how to find offensive rhythm on the road like they do at home. AP Photo/Nick Wass

BALTIMORE -- Wide receiver Torrey Smith was asked if the Baltimore Ravens' 55-20 dismantling of the Oakland Raiders was a statement game.

"Nah," Smith said. "It was just another game."

The only statement made by the Ravens was the importance of this team to get home-field advantage in the playoffs. The Ravens look like Super Bowl contenders when they play in front of sellout crowds at M&T Bank Stadium. When they go on the road, they look like a team searching for confidence and an identity.

There's no question that the Ravens' focus has to be on the resurgent Steelers and winning the AFC North. But, based on how the season has unfolded, it also has become a necessity for Baltimore to beat out Houston for home-field advantage in the AFC playoffs. The Ravens (7-2) are one game back of the Texans (8-1), who beat Baltimore earlier this season.

Baltimore would be the favorite to go to the Super Bowl if it secured the top seed. The Ravens' 15-game home winning streak is the NFL's longest and no one is really close (the Falcons are second with eight straight).

The biggest difference between playing at home and on the road is with the Baltimore offense. The Ravens set a franchise record with 55 points scored (one touchdown came on a kickoff return) after scoring a total of 28 points the past two weeks on the road. For the season, Baltimore is averaging 36.8 points per game at home and 17.5 points on the road.

"I don't have a reason for it," said Smith, who has scored six of his seven touchdowns this season at home, including two on Sunday. "You can't say crowd noise because sometimes the other teams' places are quiet. You can't say it's the same game-planning because we're running the exact same plays. For whatever reason, we're just not getting it done. I just have no clue. It's like night and day. It's weird but we'll get it right."

Joe Flacco ripped apart the Raiders' defense with 341 yards and four touchdowns (three passing and one rushing) in three quarters. In his past two road games, he totaled 300 yards passing with two touchdowns and two interceptions.

The Ravens' defense sacked Raiders quarterback Carson Palmer three times (yes, one was the result of him tripping) and knocked down six of his passes. In the past two road games, Baltimore had a total of three sacks.

Baltimore returner Jacoby Jones finished off the scoring Sunday with a kickoff return for a touchdown to become the only player in NFL history to score on two kickoff returns of at least 105 yards. When did his previous touchdown return occur? The Ravens' last home game three weeks ago.

Last Sunday in Cleveland, the Ravens went 29 minutes without a first down. At home Sunday, Baltimore scored 55 points in 60 minutes.

Why are the Ravens so strong at home and mediocre on the road?

"I don't really have that answer right now for you," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "We've played well at home, so that's a credit. And we have to find ways to play better on the road. We'll have a nice opportunity to do that here next week [at Pittsburgh] and the week after that [at San Diego]. So, that'll be our challenge."

Take a look at the Ravens' dominance during their 15-game home winning streak:

  • Averaged 29.7 points per game while allowing just 17.2

  • Posted a plus-16 turnover ratio

  • Sacked opposing quarterbacks 47 times and forced 18 interceptions

"You see it, league wide. For some reason, it's been a little more pronounced here," tight end Dennis Pitta said of the team's play at home and on the road. "I think we haven't played some of our best football in some of these road games but we still came away with wins, which is important. To be sitting at 7-2 right now, we feel good where we're at. We've got some momentum now going into a brutal stretch of our schedule."

At this point, the Ravens have the NFL's second-best record and looked like a 7-2 team for one of the few times Sunday. While some will discredit the Ravens' win by pointing out that the Raiders didn't have their top two running backs, Baltimore also played without defensive tackle Haloti Ngata (shoulder) and cornerback Jimmy Smith (abdomen). The Ravens limited the Raiders to 20 points despite starting their No. 4 corner (Corey Graham) and rookie seventh-round pick (DeAngelo Tyson) at defensive tackle.

It has become a tight race with the Ravens holding a 1.5-game lead over the Steelers (5-3) in the AFC North as well as a one-game advantage over the Patriots (6-3) and Broncos (6-3) for the No. 2 seed in the AFC.

There are still seven games left in the regular season, but Pitta acknowledged that "it's never too early" to start looking at the scoreboard.

"We're going to be rooting against those guys because it's going to help us position ourselves better," Pitta said of watching the Texans. "We're at the point of the season where all these games become really critical toward playoff positioning. Yeah, we're going to keep a close eye on some of these games."

Harbaugh said last week that there was no such thing as a "homecoming game" in the NFL. All that was missing Sunday were the parade and floats.

This blowout came at the right time for the Ravens. The average margin of victory for Baltimore's past five wins was 4.6 points. A 35-point victory can do wonders for the Ravens' psyche heading into road games at Pittsburgh (which has won six straight home games) and at San Diego (where the Ravens lost by 20 points last season).

"You could talk about confidence, but confidence is really built by playing well, right?" Harbaugh said. "You prove yourself that you can do well, and you become more confident. So, that's got to [be] a plus for us. We feel like we're in the position where we wanted to be. Now, we have to go in there and put our best foot forward and play the best we can and see what happens."

For the Ravens, they hope the road leads them back home for the playoffs.