Ugly wins have Ravens sitting pretty

November 05, 2001|By Mike Preston

PITTSBURGH - Despite winning ugly, the Ravens find themselves in a fairly attractive position at the midway point of the season.

Oh, they've got problems. Boy, do they ever. No running back who can get outside. One quarterback bothered by injuries, another who will be applying for a pension after the season. They've got an offensive line that has given up 15 sacks in the past three games and a cornerback who gets picked on more than the grade-school girl with the long ponytail and nerdy glasses.

But, right now, who cares?

After eight games, the Ravens are 5-3, fresh off a 13-10 win against the Pittsburgh Steelers yesterday at Heinz Field. The victory moved the Ravens within a half-game of the AFC Central-leading Steelers with five of their next eight games at PSINet Stadium.

But just as important, there is an impression that the breaks are about to work in the Ravens' favor again, just like last season. Halloween came late for the Ravens yesterday, because that sure looked like Al Del Greco dressed in a Steelers uniform.

The Steelers' Kris Brown, who had missed only two of 13 field-goal attempts this season before yesterday, had one tipped and three others sail wide right, including the potential game-tying kick of 35 yards with eight seconds remaining.

The Ravens also were on the favorable end of a passing whiff by quarterback Kordell Stewart and a roughing-the-passer penalty, all in Pittsburgh's new stadium, where the Steelers were previously unbeaten.

Maybe it's the karma thing again.

Remember last year, when the Ravens beat Tennessee, not once, but twice, at Adelphi Stadium? And remember how Del Greco missed a 43-yard, game-winning attempt (he also missed an extra point) in that first game? And then how he missed three field-goal tries in the Titans' 24-10 playoff loss to the Ravens?

"We were thinking about that all week, the first Tennessee game," said Ravens center Mike Flynn. "You don't want to be too happy at 5-3, but we've played some good opponents and a lot of teams have improved. But, traditionally, we've done well in the second half, and we can use that to our advantage."

Bingo.

The Ravens are 14-2 in November and December under third-year coach Brian Billick. He preps his teams to make playoff runs in those two months. That's why he has those Club Med training camps. He wants fresh legs late in the season.

Three losses in the division could have buried the Ravens. But now they are in great shape and get a chance, in Baltimore, to avenge division defeats to Cincinnati and Cleveland.

"We can take care of business at home," said Ravens tight end Shannon Sharpe. "I hear all of these people saying that they have figured out the Ravens, they know how to beat us. Well, we're just in midseason form. The good thing is that some of those teams that beat us, we get them again. We want to win every game, but it's important that you win the ones in November and December."

It's also nice to have a little luck. On second-and-seven from the Ravens' 38 with 6:23 left in the third quarter, Stewart fumbled while bringing his arm back to throw a pass. Teammate Oliver Ross recovered, but it resulted in a 10-yard loss. On the next play, Stewart completed a 10-yard pass to Troy Edwards, who then fumbled. Ravens cornerback Corey Harris recovered at the 35.

The Ravens' ensuing possession seemed to stop at their 40 as Cunningham failed to complete a pass to tight end Todd Heap, but defensive end Aaron Smith was called for roughing the passer. He was chopped while trying to knock down Cunningham's pass, and barely grabbed the quarterback's face mask while coming down. The penalty eventually set up a 25-yard field goal by Matt Stover that tied the game 10-10 at the beginning of the fourth quarter.

And then there was Brown. Don't say the words "wide right."

"We knew he was off," said Ravens middle linebacker Ray Lewis. "We knew if we got a good surge, it might get to his head."

Sharpe said: "You know how kickers are. They're fragile. He'd been missing them all day. I wasn't even worried about it. I had taken my socks off, my gloves off. I feel good about this team right now. Crazy stuff is starting to happen again."

But last season the Ravens had running back Jamal Lewis, who made his offensive line look better than it really was, and a quarterback who didn't commit many turnovers. Last season, Billick had chosen Trent Dilfer over starter Tony Banks in Game No. 8.

Despite Cunningham's winning the past two games, Billick has said Elvis Grbac (bruised ribs) will be the starter when he returns. Is it time for a quarterback controversy?

"You have one quarterback making $6 million [Grbac] and another making about $477,000 [Cunningham], so it's obvious which one has to play," Sharpe said, laughing. "But it will come down to wins and losses, and Brian has to put in the best guy who runs his offense."

Wouldn't it be nice if this team found an offensive identity?

Baltimore Sun Articles
|
|
|
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.