Bye week gives Ravens some time for growth Minimizing mistakes is Marchibroda's aim

September 17, 1996|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

The Ravens will not play until Sept. 29 against the New Orleans Saints. And coach Ted Marchibroda welcomed the bye week as a time for his team to get healthy physically and to overcome the mental growing pains that he believes have played a big role in the Ravens' two-game losing streak.

"You have to go through some ups and downs when you're growing," said Marchibroda, a day after the Ravens dropped a 29-13 decision to Houston to fall to 1-2, including 0-2 in the AFC Central Division. "This is something we have to go through, and we're going to be a better football team for it, when it's all over.

"The intensity was there [in Houston], but we made too many errors. We have to get back to basics. This two-week period will give us that opportunity. A loss is something you hate to deal with, but you have to see what kind of men you are. You have to bounce back."

During their two-week, winless stretch on the road, the Ravens have been bounced around on defense, and have committed costly turnovers on offense. They have been pushed around up front on defense and have paid for blown pass coverages. They have fallen behind early due to turnovers by quarterback Vinny Testaverde. And they have failed miserably in their attempts to come from behind in both games.

"Our worst opponent most of the time is us," running back Earnest Byner said. "We draw the gun and shoot ourselves."

Along the way, they have been challenged and cajoled by Marchibroda. Several days before its 31-17 loss to Pittsburgh last week, Marchibroda ripped the team for a nonchalant practice following its season-opening victory over the Raiders. After the loss, he challenged the team to show more veteran leadership. The players answered his call with a crisp week of practice, then laid another egg on the Astrodome carpet.

Marchibroda wasn't too thrilled with the way some of the Ravens dealt with Sunday's defeat. Some players lingered outside the locker room, talking with friends before Marchibroda's postgame talk. Some laughed and joked after they got inside.

"I've learned over the years that those who put everything into it [game preparation] hurt the most when you lose and enjoy the victories the most," Marchibroda said. "We're hoping to get everybody to make a total commitment. We're not going to win until we make that happen."

And what the Ravens have shown in the early going is that they need to play virtually mistake-free football to win. Outside of rookie kick returner Jermaine Lewis, whom opponents already are kicking the ball away from, they lack a player with game-breaking speed, a player who can turn a mistake into a big gain, a player who can quickly change the complexion of a game.

With those limitations, any mistake is magnified.

"We can't play not to lose, but we can't make the kind of mistakes we made yesterday," Marchibroda said. "This team has to click on all eight cylinders."

Marchibroda is thinking about changing a few parts. Kick returner Earnest Hunter, who misplayed a kickoff Sunday -- his third glaring error this season -- could be replaced by Ray Ethridge against New Orleans. Rookie Donny Brady also might get the starting nod over Issac Booth at right cornerback, where Booth has struggled.

Although he has turned the ball over five times in the past two weeks, Testaverde is secure.

"I'm out there practicing against him every day, and I go up against other quarterbacks every week. Vinny has it all," linebacker Mike Caldwell said. "We're confident that Vinny is going to make some people eat their words."

Marchibroda applauded Testaverde's postgame guarantee that he would not again play as badly as he did in Houston. The coach, however, offered no guarantees.

"We'll play better as the season goes along," Marchibroda said. "We'll be all right."

NOTES: Free agent tight end Eric Green is expected to pay the Ravens a visit by tomorrow, and tight end Johnny Mitchell could stop by this week as well.

Next for Ravens

Opponent: New Orleans Saints

When Sept. 29, 1 p.m.

Site: Memorial Stadium

TV/Radio: Ch. 45/WJFK (1300 AM), WLIF (101.9 FM)

Pub Date: 9/17/96

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