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CAN THE RAVENS WIN AT NEW ENGLAND?
Can the Ravens win at New England?
Well, yeah, we did nine months ago when we beat them in the playoffs, 33-14 on Jan. 10 at Gillette Stadium.
But, that was really unusual. The Patriots had not lost a home playoff game since 1978 before we delivered our victory at their place. And, regular season…well, they just don't lose at home. The Pats did not lose at Gillette in 2009 or 2007. They did go 5-3 at home in 2008 when Tom Brady missed most of the season with an injury. Brady has won 22 regular season games in a row at home. (The Pats have scored 38 points each in their two homes games this season.)
(Since 2003, the Patriots are an NFL-best 49-9 in their friendly confines. By the way, we're third with an impressive 44-14 mark at M&T Bank Stadium. The Colts are 48-10 in Indy.)
That said, we're not so shabby on the road, and we're getting better as we've already shown in wins at the Jets and the Steelers this season. Under John Harbaugh, who became our head coach prior to the 2008 season, the Ravens have won 13 road games, including the postseason. Only the Colts, with 14, have more triumphs away from home during this span.
The NFL has made it a little harder for us this Sunday in Foxboro. This is our fourth road game in the first six weeks of the season. Plus, the Patriots, coming off their bye weekend, have had two weeks to prepare for us.
We'll show up this Sunday with a plan to win. And, I'm sure our travel will be as smooth as possible as we follow a precise schedule to be there for the 1 p.m. kickoff.
After a team and position meetings Saturday morning, Coach Harbaugh puts the Ravens through a practice he dubs "Mock Game." This is the dress rehearsal practice for all the things we plan to do against the Patriots. We conduct this session at our Owings Mills facility. It's a non-pads practice and lasts about 35 minutes. While this is a "light" session with no hitting and no full-speed work, pity the player – and his assistant coach – who does not know his game assignments by this time.
By early afternoon, it will be time to check in for our charter flight to Providence, Rhode Island, where the efficient Bob Eller, our Vice President of Operations, is in command. Bob has been doing this awhile and is considered among the best, if not the best, in the NFL at his job.
We easily move through security and onto the charter. Coach Harbaugh sits on the right seat at the front of the plane. Across from him is Assistant Head Coach and Special Teams Coordinator Jerry Rosburg. Behind John, coordinators Cam Cameron and Greg Mattison sit. The oldest players on the team can sit in first class, but only Ray Lewis and Brendon Ayanbadejo do so. They sit in the last two seats on the left in the front section. To Brendon's right is Ozzie Newsome, who sits next to me, and across the aisle is team president Dick Cass.
Our charter is equipped with TVs on the back of each seat. This allows us to watch college games on two of the stations made available. It also reinforces the long-practiced tradition of making fun of the alma maters of the people on the plane. With Alabama winning last season's national championship, Ozzie, Jarret Johnson, the only two-time captain in Tide history, and Le'Ron McClain, another former 'Bama captain, have current bragging rights. But, no doubt, this trio will get a heap of jabs tomorrow about their loss last Saturday to South Carolina.
Whenever the "U" – Miami of Florida, not Miami of Ohio, Coach Harbaugh's college – does anything good, we will all hear from Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Tavares Gooden and Willis McGahee. Of course, when the Hurricanes don't do well, this foursome gets ripped by the fellow passengers. Reed had a good line to Tom Zbikowski recently: "Zibby, it's not even fun to make fun of Notre Dame anymore." With Oregon now in the top three in the polls, Haloti Ngata and Ed Dickson are getting much louder.
Have to mention the food on our trips. We eat well, and that includes the team snack at 9:15 on Saturday nights and the pre-game meal at 8:30 a.m. on Sunday. There is always plenty of and a variety of food. When we take a sponsor on our flights, you almost have to warn them about the food: "Pick what you want. Don't eat the first things offered." As you enter the jet, there are boxes filled with bag lunches featuring sub sandwiches. Once you're in your seat, cheese, crackers, fruit and candy are offered. You then get a choice of hot dinners that include shellfish appetizers, salads and dessert. After dinner, warm chocolate chip cookies and a variety of ice creams are showcased in front of you.
You'll probably be surprised to know that most players make healthy choices, despite some of the "junk food" that is paraded in front of them. And, I have to mention the longtime tradition of rookie players bringing food for their position partners for the trip to the game. For years, almost all of the rookies bring Popeye's chicken. (Now, I'm not sure there is a heaven, but if there is, I'm assuming there will be Popeye's spicy chicken. Man, I like those pieces.) Because he's superstitious – and also, he says, "out of respect to the man" – Ray Rice always brings Ozzie two pieces of the chicken.
When we land in Providence tomorrow, buses will be out on the tarmac waiting for us. At the hotel, tables with envelopes with keys for each person in our travel party await. A handful of players and the head coach immediately meet with the CBS-TV crew doing the game. For the Ravens/Patriots showdown, we have the top crew, which includes Jim Nantz and Phil Simms. Players are interviewed for 10 to 15 minutes each, and Harbs always goes last – his meeting with them is usually 30 minutes. Evening meetings start at 7:30 and conclude with a brief team session at 9:00.
There's a chapel service and a mass for team members at 8:15 a.m. Sunday. Buses to Gillette Stadium will then leave at 9:10 and 10:10 a.m. It's all efficient and smooth.
WHO'S THE BEST-DRESSED?
Our dress code is business casual, which by Ravens' standards for the men includes a sport coat, collared shirt, nice slacks and no tennis shoes. I polled 12 players and asked who they thought was the best-dressed Raven. Three players got votes: Derrick Mason, Willis McGahee and Ray Lewis. I informed Derrick and Willis about this distinction. Derrick replied: "Willis is not even a close second." Willis answered: "Derrick? He dresses like a church deacon. That can't be best dressed."
Terrell Suggs got some mention for being well dressed. "Sizzle's" pick as the best: "It's Ray Lewis, but he has to bring two bags to get it done." (Ray said he wears one set of clothes for the plane, a sweat suit for the Saturday night meetings, and "I put on the real stuff for game day. You look good, you play good.") Suggs also offered props to new Raven T.J. Houshmandzadeh. "He doesn't have a track record with us yet, but so far, pretty good." And, without prompting, Terrell said: "Kelly Gregg is the worst. And, he's only the worst because we let Trevor (Pryce) go. He was terrible." Gregg did not argue: "They say I have to wear a sports coat. I have one, and I wear it. I have a collared shirt, and I have dark jeans that kind of look like dress pants."
The players will all look the same at Gillette: white jersey, white pants and black shoes. Let's show everyone how good we are right now. Let's beat the Pats – again. That would make a great flight back to Baltimore.
Talk with you next week.
Kevin Byrne, a Ravens senior vice president, has worked in the NFL for 32 years. Byrne has been with the Ravens since the start of the franchise in 1996. Earlier in his career, Byrne was the sports information director at Marquette University, his alma mater, when they won the 1977 NCAA basketball championship under coach Al McGuire.