Ravens still worthy of prime time

Team plays host to Broncos in Sept. on a Monday night

Season opens at Carolina

Sunday night contest at Cleveland Browns nationally televised

March 29, 2002|By Brent Jones | Brent Jones,SUN STAFF

Times are tough when the first good news of the off-season comes by way of the schedule.

The Ravens finally had something to gleam over yesterday, scoring a Monday night home game against the Denver Broncos (Sept. 30) despite questions surrounding how good the team will be after cutting a host of veterans earlier this month.

Six days after the Broncos game, the Ravens will make another prime-time appearance, at Cleveland on ESPN.

The two national games are somewhat of a surprise considering the Ravens will be without some of their best-known players. Tight end Shannon Sharpe, often the voice of the team, was released along with probable Hall of Fame safety Rod Woodson, and gregarious defensive tackle Tony Siragusa retired.

Still, the team did make the playoffs last season and won 11 games, and it is rare playoff teams from the previous year do not make at least one Monday night appearance. It will be the second Monday night home game for the Ravens since the team moved to Baltimore in 1996.

"I've long given up trying to figure out what they think is marketable and what is not," said Ravens coach Brian Billick, on whether he was surprised by the Monday night home game. "It is great that we've got one. I'm excited that the fans are getting an early Monday night game, much like we were supposed to have last year. I think it will be great for Baltimore against a great opponent."

The Ravens will open the season Sept. 8 at Carolina, which lost 15 straight games last season. Unlike the previous two years, the Ravens do not have a rough stretch of road games. Last year, the Ravens played four of five games on the road at one point, and the year before, the team played five of its first seven on the road.

The Ravens have back-to-back road games only once next season - at Cleveland (Oct. 6) and at Indianapolis (Oct. 13). There are no back-to-back home or road games the final 10 contests of the season.

"I like it," Billick said of the schedule. "Certainly since I've been here it is the most evenly paced schedule we've had. You don't have the seven out of nine on the road, the three-game road trek. Clearly playing on a Monday night then having to go on the road on a short week and playing on a Sunday is less than desirable. And the bye [Sept. 22], you would like it a bit later, but all the byes are done by December anyway. So all in all, I think it is a great home schedule for the fans."

The Ravens' home opener is Sept. 15 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Buccaneers beat the Ravens in Tampa, Fla., last season, the only time the teams have met.

With the Ravens possibly opening the season with first-time starter Chris Redman at quarterback and switching to a 3-4 defense under new coordinator Mike Nolan, the team may catch a break by facing Carolina the week before. It will be over a year since the Panthers would have won a game by the time the teams take the field.

"Playing Carolina, they are a young team as well," said linebacker Shannon Taylor from the team's training facility. "[Former Ravens linebackers coach] Jack Del Rio use to coach us at linebacker, and he is down there now [as defensive coordinator], so it is going to be a lot of emotion seeing him again."

Only four of the 16 games are against playoff teams from a year ago, including two against division rival Pittsburgh. The other two are the home opener against Tampa Bay and a rematch of last year's wild-card win at Miami on Nov. 17.

"The strength of scheduling has gone by way of the wells now. Every schedule is tough," Billick said. "It looks to be a tough schedule, particularly early. The hard thing you don't know is what teams are going to be good. You don't know if New Orleans is going to be what they were last year or revert to what they were two years ago."

The Ravens had 10 divisional games last year, but with realignment, will have six this season (twice against Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Cincinnati as part of the AFC North). Former AFC Central foes Jacksonville and Tennessee, now in the AFC South, will both come to Baltimore.

"We are all having to adjust to the idea that the divisional mentality has changed," Billick said. "That is going to change the thinking."

NOTES: The Ravens hired Mark Asanovich and Paul Ricci as assistant strength and conditioning coaches. Asanovich spent the past six seasons with Tampa Bay, and Ricci has worked part time with the Ravens since 1999.

Ravens 2002 schedule

Date ............... Opponent ............... Time

9-8 ................ at Carolina ................... 1

9-15 .............. Tampa Bay ................... 1

9-22 .............. Open date

9-30 .............. Denver .......................... 9

10-6 ............. at Cleveland ................ 8:30

10-13 ........... at Indianapolis ............... 1

10-20 ........... Jacksonville ................... 1

10-27 ........... Pittsburgh ...................... 1

11-3 ............. at Atlanta ....................... 1

11-10 ........... Cincinnati ....................... 1

11-17 ........... at Miami ......................... 1

11-24 ........... Tennessee ..................... 1

12-1 ............. at Cincinnati .................... 1

12-8 ............. New Orleans ................. 4:05

12-15 ........... at Houston ...................... 1

12-22 ........... Cleveland ...................... 4:15

12-29 ........... at Pittsburgh ................... 1

NFL team-by-team 2002 schedules. [Page 10d]

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