Billick: Let's not get too confident

After Monday breakout, Ravens brace for Browns

Ravens quickly shift focus to Browns

October 02, 2002|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

Having delivered a show-stopping performance in the national spotlight, the Ravens now must prove they can deliver an encore.

After shocking the Denver Broncos as well as the rest of the league on Monday Night Football, the Ravens have a quick, six-day turnaround to collect themselves. The young Ravens (1-2) will be battling their newfound confidence as much as the Cleveland Browns (2-2) on Sunday night, when they head into an emotionally charged atmosphere before another national television audience.

With first place in the AFC North on the line, the theme today will be to bypass the rhetoric in favor of a reality check.

"I'm glad that we're on a short week because we need to get back to it quickly so we don't languish in the self-praise too long," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "It's all about the next game, and you have to stay that focused. It sounds childish, but that's clearly where this team has to be. I'm kind of back in the 1999 mode. This team is such a wholly new team, they have to earn the right to even think about playoffs.

"Fortunately, they're still afraid enough of me where I can put the fear of God in them pretty quickly and snap them back into shape when I see anything. With these young guys, I still got them fooled, I guess."

Besides regaining their focus, the Ravens' biggest concerns are the health of tight end Todd Heap and "Tape-gate."

Heap bruised his thigh during his breakout performance but returned to the game. He was listed as questionable yesterday.

The other issue - which involves the exact distance of Chris McAlister's record-setting runback - is not questionable, according to the Ravens. After announcing the return at 108 yards, an official for the Elias Sports Bureau informed the Ravens that he measured the spot at 107 yards. Either way, it's officially the longest play in NFL history.

But Bob Eller, the Ravens' director of operations and information, examined ESPN's highlight film to pinpoint where the ball was when McAlister caught it and then used a tape measure yesterday at Ravens Stadium to determine the distance from the goal line. The team submitted its findings to Elias and believes the ruling will be reversed.

"It's 8 yards on the money," Eller said.

McAlister's touchdown return of a missed field goal highlighted a game won on special teams. Whether it was a blocked punt, a punt return or kickoff return, special teams play had a hand in 24 of the Ravens' 34 points.

But when the Ravens read their special teams scouting report today, it will read: "That was not our best game. We can get better. Special teams made a couple of big plays because of some players' efforts. However, our best game will be when every player plays physical and all-out on every play. Then, you'll still make big plays and maybe more."

That message was sent by special teams coordinator Gary Zauner, who applauded the big plays but was upset at the sloppy effort in between. Too often, he said he noticed players overrun a tackle or fail to maintain a block.

"I hate to say it, but I'm one of those guys where my standards are a lot higher than most," Zauner said. "Yeah, we scored but I looked at a lot of plays where we could have been better. I still have seen how some guys still haven't bought into the system of how they need to play."

The Browns understand the importance of special teams play.

On Sunday, Cleveland lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers in overtime when it missed a field-goal attempt, then failed to recover the ball after blocking a Steelers kick. Pittsburgh hit the winning field goal on the next play.

Despite the Browns' special teams lapses, the Ravens are wary of Cleveland's return game. Once again, the Ravens will have to prove their focus.

"I want them to realize with Cleveland this week, we'd better have our act together," Zauner said.

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