Ravens won't lose hope, too, Billick says

Coach vows to stay `positive ... demanding' despite dismal defeat

`That's a fine line to walk'

He calls on veterans to step up level of play

September 10, 2002|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

Heading into the season opener, Ravens coach Brian Billick showed the beginning of Saving Private Ryan in an effort to get his players into the right mind-set.

After Sunday's humbling, 10-7 loss to the lowly Carolina Panthers, how does Billick go about saving this season?

Stunned by the team that had the NFL's worst record last season, the Ravens wasted their best chance of the season to establish confidence. Now, the league's youngest team is walking an emotional tightrope after one game.

But when times are bad is when Billick the master psychologist is at his best.

"I can't let this team fall into the desperation of hopelessness," Billick said. "At no point - no matter how frustrated I get - I can't melt down. These players have to be dealt with in a certain way. I'm going to be positive and upbeat and demanding.

"You have to dog-cuss them a little bit to make sure they understand what it takes to win. But at the same token, it has to be in a teaching mode. You have to be comforting to a degree but not to the point where you condone it. That's a fine line to walk sometimes."

Although Billick can be criticized for his shuffling of quarterbacks and the sputtering of his offense, he has never failed to motivate his team.

Two years ago, he kept his players focused through Ray Lewis' murder trial and a five-game touchdown drought, leading them to a Super Bowl title. Last season, he guided the Ravens to within a win of the AFC championship game even though the players appeared to lose faith in quarterback Elvis Grbac in the middle of the season.

To dig this team out of this early hole, Billick is leaning on his older players to lead the way.

"Clearly our veterans need to raise their level of play," Billick said. "Because of the youth of this team, there's going to be enough mistakes that we can't afford those errors by the veterans."

The good news is that the other three teams in the AFC North - the Cleveland Browns, Cincinnati Bengals and Pittsburgh Steelers - lost their first games, too. The bad news is that the Ravens' margin for error decreases in a four-game stretch against Tampa Bay, Denver, Cleveland and Indianapolis.

Offensively, the Ravens have to fix an offensive line that struggled to open holes for running back Jamal Lewis and maintain a safe pocket for quarterback Chris Redman. Defensively, they missed tackles, ran the wrong pursuit angles and played sloppily in the secondary.

"If we don't learn from the mistakes," receiver Brandon Stokley said, "we'll be in trouble."

There are a few reasons for optimism - from Redman's poised effort to the hard running by Lewis. A day after his first full game since knee surgery, Lewis reported no problems.

"I was surprised how good it felt," Lewis said.

Said Billick: "I really think Jamal is back at full speed."

To the Ravens' credit, the players appeared to shake off the disappointing loss. The locker room was quiet early but gradually loosened up.

The first chuckles were heard when receiver Travis Taylor donned a bright orange University of Miami hat and a green T-shirt that read: "It's a Cane Thing." Taylor lost a bet on this past weekend's Miami-Florida game to rookie safety Ed Reed.

There was also a lighthearted debate over who deserved the touchdown ball from the Ravens' score, since it was the first for receiver Ron Johnson and Redman. Johnson said it's going home with him.

"We're here as a team," Redman said. "We're going to stick together no matter what. That's kind of special that not a lot of teams have. We'll lean on it because we need it. It's not a bunch of hype. We really believe it."

Redman sees only one cure to losing.

"Beating Tampa would be a great way to bounce back," he said. "We felt like we should have won that game on Sunday, but instead we have to put it behind us. It's over with, and we have to keep moving on. If we pull out a win at home against Tampa Bay, everybody will definitely forget about that game."

Before the Ravens confront the Buccaneers' Warren Sapp and Keyshawn Johnson, the question remains: Can the players forget about losing to the Panthers?

"You can dwell on the loss Sunday, but you can't dwell on it all week," left tackle Jonathan Ogden said. "You can't dwell on a loss or else you're going to get in a tailspin and you are never going to win."

Next for Ravens

Opponent:Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Site:Ravens Stadium

When:Sunday, 1 p.m.

TV/Radio:Ch. 45/WJFK (1300 AM), WQSR (102.7 FM)

Line:Bucs by 3 1/2

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