Proud Ravens figure to be mile high for Broncos test

September 30, 2001|By MIKE PRESTON

ENVER — DENVER - The real 2001 Baltimore Ravens will show up today.

There is a sense of urgency now, and that will pump some passion into the Ravens (1-1) when they play the Denver Broncos (2-0) at Invesco Field. There are no guarantees that the Ravens will win, but they'll play hard, which they haven't done in the first two games.

The complacency will end because the Ravens have to start winning now. The edge will be there because they are playing a quality team that is seeking redemption from a playoff loss to Baltimore last season. The Ravens will be focused because there is virtually no margin of error against the next three opponents.

Then there is the pride factor. The Ravens have a lot of it.

The team's 21-10 upset loss to Cincinnati last Sunday wasn't just a wake-up call, but a shock to the central nervous system.

"It was a jolt," Ravens offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden said. "I would like to think that we'll come out and show people that we're the same team as last year, that we'll run the ball, have no turnovers and play great defense. We have to run the ball a little better than the first two weeks; we have to be tougher. We'll be ready, a lot more ready than we were last week."

Emotionally, the Ravens haven't been in the past two games, but they still managed a 17-6 win against Chicago in the opener. And we've seen this before. The team went through the motions during the final two games of the 2000 season against Arizona and the New York Jets, and managed to win both before bringing their A game in the postseason.

The Ravens have tried that in 2001, but there is a big difference. The Ravens are the Super Bowl champs and have a big bull's-eye on their backs. They are going to face the maximum effort every week, regardless if it's the Bears, Bengals, Browns or Patriots.

The Ravens probably would have regained some of their postseason edge had they played Minnesota on Monday Night Football nearly two weeks ago. It would have pitted the league's most explosive offense against the league's top defense, and it would have been the first Monday night game featuring a Baltimore team since 1978.

But the game was postponed because of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

The Ravens never regained their edge, and Cincinnati couldn't bring out the best in them. Denver will. So will rival Tennessee at home the following week, and the Packers in Green Bay on Oct. 14.

"Obviously, this game is of greater importance because of the setback last week," said Ravens tight end Shannon Sharpe. "All games are important, but now there is a heightened sense of urgency. Denver is a damn good football team. The guys know what the schedule is; they know what lies before us. But by no stretch of the imagination are we thinking about what is down the road with Denver ahead of us."

It's veterans like Sharpe who will force the Ravens to intensify today. They have too many veterans like Tony Siragusa, Rob Burnett, Michael McCrary and Rod Woodson not to respond to an uphill battle. They have too many players like Ray Lewis and Peter Boulware who truly love the game not to increase the fury.

But even though the Ravens will give a strong effort today, they aren't close to the peak they reached last year in Super Bowl XXXV, when they trashed the New York Giants, 34-7.

There are still questions about the 2001 Ravens. Can quarterback Elvis Grbac become the leader of the offense? Will the offensive line give him time to throw? Who will step up from the receiving corps? Will this team ever establish a running game? Has the defensive line, as a unit, lost a step?

Certainly, the Broncos are better than they were in December, when they lost to the Ravens, 21-3, in an AFC wild-card game at PSINet Stadium. The Broncos created this team just for the Ravens.

The Broncos signed former Washington Redskins defensive coordinator Ray Rhodes in the off-season. They also signed former Raven Keith Washington, who starts at defensive end. They added two free-agent defensive tackles, Chester McGlockton and Leon Lett, to shut down Ravens running back Jamal Lewis, who gutted Denver's defense with runs up the middle.

Denver has two new cornerbacks, Deltha O'Neal and Denard Walker, who run extremely well.

And now, unlike last winter, Brian Griese is at quarterback.

"You have to be impressed with the way Brian Griese runs the offense," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "He makes big plays with very few mistakes. We didn't face him in the playoffs, and our defense looks forward to the challenge."

If the Ravens want to control Griese, they have to slow running back Mike Anderson. And for that to happen, defensive tackles Siragusa and Sam Adams have to control Broncos guards Lennie Friedman and Dan Neil and center Tom Nalen.

It won't be easy. And it won't be easy playing against Mike Shanahan, the best coach in the NFL, or in Denver, where the Broncos are 70-23 during the past decade .

But at least today the Ravens will have a solid chance. They'll be ready to play. Last season when it mattered, they always managed to find a way to win.

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