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Ravens confident their game will travel well

By Julian Benbow
Globe Staff / January 17, 2012
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OWINGS MILLS, Md. - The question had been floating in the ether so much that once someone finally asked it, Ravens coach John Harbaugh responded as if he had been rehearsing his line in the mirror all morning.

The Ravens went undefeated at home during the regular season, and won their playoff opener Sunday against the Houston Texans at M&T Bank Stadium to reach the AFC title game against the Patriots.

But they went 4-4 on the road.

There was an early-season loss to the Titans in Tennessee and an embarrassing “Monday Night Football’’ loss to the Jaguars in Jacksonville. There was a letdown in Seattle, and then the blowout loss they took in San Diego (34-14).

Now, to reach the Super Bowl for the first time since they won it in 2001, they have to go into Gillette Stadium and get a win.

“Do you think,’’ the question started, “at this juncture, you guys are playing well enough to win a big game on the road?’’

Harbaugh was short and terse.

“You mean as opposed to the Pittsburgh game or the Cincinnati game this year,’’ he said.

Joe Flacco threw a 26-yard touchdown pass with 14 seconds left to lead the Ravens to a 23-20 victory at Pittsburgh Nov. 6 that put them in a tie for first place in the AFC North. They also swept the Steelers this season.

The Ravens ultimately won the division the final week of the season when they went to Cincinnati and won, 24-16.

“I think I answered that question,’’ Harbaugh said.

He won’t know for certain until Sunday afternoon, when the Ravens make their latest trip to Gillette Stadium. All of their recent meetings have been epics, three of the last four were decided by a touchdown or less, and the Ravens are expecting this game to be another round in what’s been a six-year prizefight.

“We have played four times going back to 2007 and they all have been wars,’’ said linebacker Jarret Johnson. “Even though they’ve won three of the four, they’ve had to earn it. It’s going to be an extremely intense situation and environment and we’re looking forward to it.

“They’re one of the top teams in the AFC every year, so are we,’’ Johnson said. “We seem to always meet some way, some how. It’s usually up there for some reason.’’

When the Ravens beat the Texans, 20-13, Sunday, they were playing their first home playoff game since 2006, and they had the advantage of a record 71,547 fans screaming at a Texans team that was playing its second postseason game in franchise history.

The Ravens have played the Patriots five times at Foxborough in their history and are 1-6 overall against them. Their only win was in the 2009 wild-card round at Gillette, a 34-13 blowout.

Asked how much better his team had to be to beat the Patriots this time, safety Ed Reed said succinctly, “A lot better.’’

Reed simply has to get better. He injured his ankle on the last play against the Texans. Harbaugh said Reed had X-rays on his ankle yesterday. “Ed looks like he’s all right with the ankle,’’ Harbaugh said. “Everything’s come up OK as far as the X-rays.’’

The Ravens didn’t commit a penalty or a turnover in their playoff opener Sunday. On the road, Harbaugh said, turnovers are the biggest difference in a game. Flacco threw 12 picks this season, but he was an equal opportunist (six at home, six on the road). But on the road he knows turnovers can swing momentum.

“The biggest thing is when little things start to maybe go against you a little bit, their crowd can get into it a little bit and possibly cause some things that if you were at home wouldn’t happen,’’ Flacco said. “Last year, up in Pittsburgh, we fumbled a snap because we couldn’t hear, nobody could hear. We were just off with it. If we were at home, that would have never happened because everybody would have been able to hear my voice clearly.

“I don’t think you think about too much of it. At the end of the game, I think you can probably pick a couple things out that would have happened.’’

Flacco played the conference championship game on the road as a rookie, when the Ravens lost to the Steelers in Pittsburgh in 2008.

“We’ve gone on the road and played a championship game since I’ve been here,’’ Flacco said. “We didn’t win that game. We have won in New England. They are one of the teams, just like us, that’s tough to beat at home.

“They play very well up there, but we know how tough it is to go into a place like that, a place like here, and win a football game. So we’re going to have to make sure we prepare well all week and bring our A-game up there.’’

Julian Benbow can be reached at jbenbow@globe.com.

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