Ravens brace for long haul

After layoff, team plays 6 of next 8 on the road

September 18, 2001|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

Instead of soaking in the bright lights of the national stage, the Ravens held a brief practice under an American flag flying at half-staff.

Last week's terrorist attacks led to the calling off of the Ravens' first Monday Night Football game last night, and the team quietly went back to work with a rare Monday workout.

But as normality began to set in, so did the coming challenge.

In the midst of moving past last week's tragic events, the Ravens (1-0) are looking ahead to a travel itinerary unlike any other in the league, playing six of their next eight games on the road, starting with Sunday's matchup at Cincinnati (1-0).

"That's a task, particularly given the circumstances we're dealing with," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "That's where my focus is. Talking football-wise now, how is this team going to weather this storm of six of the next eight weeks on the road against some good competition?

"This is a new season, oddly enough."

It's a new season mixed with some old feelings.

Ravens defensive tackle Tony Siragusa intends to move on while not forgetting about the past, with three people still missing from his hometown of Kenilworth, N.J. Nevertheless, Siragusa knows that he has to block out any personal emotions while facing a road stretch against the likes of Denver, Green Bay and Tennessee.

"I think the teams that can handle it - and have handled it - more during this off-time are going to be the teams that are going to play the best," Siragusa said. "And you don't know what's going to happen. We can come out next Sunday and think everything is OK and all of sudden we go to war.

"It's going to be a roller-coaster ride. I think it puts in perspective who our enemies really are, not the guys on the other side of the field."

This tough stretch on the road isn't a new journey for the Ravens.

Last year, they opened the season with five of their first seven games away from PSINet Stadium. Despite that demanding schedule, the Ravens raced out to a 5-2 start.

"We've been down this road before," Billick said.

This year's road trip begins with an opponent they have owned recently. In their past three meetings with the Bengals, the Ravens have outscored them by a combined 86-7.

But the Ravens say overconfidence can't play a factor under the presumed new schedule. NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue is expected to announce today that the games postponed Sunday and last night will be made up on what would have been wild-card weekend (Jan. 5-6), reducing the number of playoff teams in each conference from six to four.

"If there's only going to be four teams, the margin of error is so small that every game is huge," Billick said. "Every game is your playoff game. Because if we let one get away, it may truly make the difference between making the playoffs and not making the playoffs."

That means the Ravens cannot afford a repeat of their slow-starting season opener.

The Ravens produced only 132 yards in a first half dictated by the Chicago Bears and took their first lead with less than two minutes remaining in the third quarter.

"Nobody had to tell us that we started slow," receiver Brandon Stokley said. "For us to be as good as we want to be, we have to start off fast."

The two-week layoff between games is not a concern for the Ravens. They held abbreviated practices five of the past six days in order to keep their rhythm from the season opener.

Their mind-set on football, however, wasn't truly restored until yesterday.

"I think it took some time to mill through everything that had happened last week from the surprise of it to the security of family and people that have family members that are involved in it," quarterback Elvis Grbac said. "For me, it took a couple of days. Today was in a sense getting back to normalcy a little bit for us."

The defense echoed Grbac's sentiments.

"You're not going to forget about it, and it's always in the back of your mind," safety Rod Woodson said. "But you do have to go on, which is tough to do at times."

For the Ravens, the time has come to focus on their jobs and the challenging road ahead.

Said Billick: "They're very mindful of their obligation to go out and entertain this country this weekend."

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