For the record, it's too early for Ravens to get excited

August 26, 1998|By John Eisenberg

The Ravens' 3-0 record?

"Looks good in the newspaper," defensive end Mike McCrary said.

And the significance?

"Looks good in the newspaper," McCrary repeated.

OK, we get it. The 3-0 record is meaningless. The NFL's preseason is batting practice with a scoreboard, forgotten as soon as the kickoff to the regular-season opener is in the air.

Players hold back physically in preseason games. Coaches hold back key parts of their playbooks.

The only people not holding back are the owners, who charge regular-season prices for games that don't count. They know how to stay aggressive.

Anyway, the only record that matters for the Ravens or any team in August is the record of how many key players get injured and carted off the field.

The won-lost record?

"Doesn't matter," Ravens quarterback Jim Harbaugh said after a 23-6 victory over the Eagles Monday night at the Big Orchid.

You can't say it simpler than that. The Ravens can wish all they want that their 3-0 record mattered, but it doesn't.

"I don't get excited about it," McCrary said. "The [regular] season is totally different."

That doesn't mean the Ravens' dominance of the Bears, Jets and Eagles is totally and utterly without meaning.

"I know the games don't count, but I don't care what anyone says, 3-0 beats 0-3," defensive end Rob Burnett said. "It's just easier to function and go to work when you're winning. Your mind-set is different. You feel better about yourself."

With all due respect, a team with a 10-21-1 record since moving to Baltimore could stand to experiment with feeling better about itself.

"This [winning] is something we needed," coach Ted Marchibroda said. "We needed it for our guys to believe."

As well, the preseason can be useful for spotting bad teams -- they often can't hide even in games that don't count -- and the Ravens, it seems, are no longer a bad team.

At the very least, they have shined by comparison in each of their three games, regardless of the final score.

"We're better than we have been in the past, I don't think there's any doubt about that now," Marchibroda said.

The Bears, who had few players anyone has ever heard of, were the definition of a bad team identifiable now. The punchless Eagles also were drifting on the fringes of Badland.

The Ravens just seemed more solid with their reliance on their defense and their rushing game. They also had more young talent, always a good sign.

"The chemistry is there on defense, I know," Burnett said. "I have been on some good defenses and I know the feeling in the huddle, and we have it."

For that and other reasons, Marchibroda sounded upbeat in the locker room after Monday night's win. He lambasted the offensive line, which had a bad game, but his overall tone was positive.

"I think we're better" than the Bears, Marchibroda said. "And we're as good as [the Eagles] or better. It's more of a level playing field now. I think we're going to make some noise in the league this year."

Does that mean 8-8? Better? Worse? No one knows yet. And not everyone is buying the company line. Sports Illustrated picked the Ravens to go 4-12 and finish last in the AFC Central. Few national publications or veteran league observers expect much from them.

The optimism they're generating is pretty much a local product. That's always a highly suspicious development.

But hey, it's a mistake to get too carried away. The Ravens went 3-1 two years ago in their first preseason in Baltimore, then won four of 16 real games.

Last year's Indianapolis Colts went 2-2 in the preseason with Harbaugh at quarterback, then lost their first 11 real games.

The NFL's preseason is a slew of outtakes made into a movie. It's a fruit with the shelf life of an overripe banana.

It's here and then it's gone, and no one misses it or even remembers it.

A team that gets excited about winning in August is a team that hasn't won much lately.

"I'm pleasantly surprised by what's happening," Marchibroda said. "But I still don't know how good we are."

You always get back to that in August. There's no avoiding it.

Pub Date: 8/26/98

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