INDIANAPOLIS - Overconfidence is no longer a factor for the Ravens since carrying a chip on their shoulder would be too painful these days.
Riding high after two high-profile victories, the Ravens were grounded last week with serious injuries to five starters, including team leader Ray Lewis. Touchdown underdogs for the third straight week, the Ravens (2-2) are hobbling into their battle with the Indianapolis Colts (3-1) today at the RCA Dome.
After learning how to win, the fledgling Ravens now have to learn how to survive. Their slim half-game AFC North lead depends on it.
"I think after this game, we'll know what kind of team we are," said Ravens left guard Edwin Mulitalo. "It's still a team sport. When guys go down, the rest of us have to pick it up. We have to pull together as a team to get this win. The way I think about it is, nothing is bigger than the team. We will show that."
The Ravens will rely on their doughnut defense - the one with the hole in the middle - because Lewis is sidelined with a partially dislocated left shoulder. The All-Pro inside linebacker is the Ravens' leading tackler and emotional spark, carrying the team back from an 0-2 start.
Besides Lewis, the Ravens are dealing with injuries to defensive end Michael McCrary (knee), receiver Brandon Stokley (ankle), center Mike Flynn (ankle) and fullback Alan Ricard (thigh).
McCrary is out for today's game, and Stokley is a game-time decision. Flynn and Ricard are expected to play, with Flynn relegated to backup duties.
Facing the prospect of being without four starters, the rebuilding Ravens don't have much of a veteran foundation left.
"Those are pretty sporting odds," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "[Colts coach] Tony Dungy owes me a bottle of wine at the very least."
The key to pulling off a surprising victory is really no surprise.
The Ravens have made no secret that they need to control the clock to control the game. Running back Jamal Lewis has to sustain long drives and keep a vulnerable Ravens defense off the field.
"If we are fortunate to come out of this game with a win, I would be stunned to look at the play-by-play and not find [the Ravens] winning the time of possession," Billick said.
Running the ball is the Ravens' best chance to win because it exposes Indianapolis' biggest weakness.
In his first season as coach, Dungy has the right players to fit his scheme and has installed a basic system that puts his players in the right position to make plays.
But the Colts have struggled tackling and are the league's third-worst run defense. Middle linebacker Rob Morris is a gap filler and doesn't have the speed to suit Dungy's linebacker profile.
"This is a great game for a running back, knowing that they're not really that good against the run," Jamal Lewis said. "It also keeps the defense off the field, knowing we can run the ball and keep a guy like Peyton Manning off the field."
Those comments hang on the Colts' bulletin board.
The Ravens, though, don't care.
"We'll back him up," Ravens right guard Bennie Anderson said.
The Ravens have two concerns defensively: big plays and screen passes.
Manning is a master of making safeties bolt forward with a play-action fake and then going over the top to receiver Marvin Harrison or tight end Marcus Pollard. The Ravens' last line of defense is composed of rookie safeties Ed Reed and Will Demps, who both understand that one false step can result in a touchdown.
"If you make that mistake, Peyton's going to find it," Billick said. "But there again, nothing teaches like the baptism of fire. They're going to make mistakes and they're going to cost us at some point. But they're learning and getting better and better at working together, which is exciting."
Said Demps: "Peyton is the ultimate challenge."
The other worry is a new one.
When Ray Lewis is in the lineup, teams never run screen passes because he is quick to break them up. With Lewis out, the Colts probably will test them with some screens to running back Edgerrin James.
Shutting that down is the responsibility of Bernardo Harris, a starter the previous five seasons with the Green Bay Packers who is expected to fill in for Lewis.
"I'm pretty comfortable with the defense," Harris said. "I'm still trying to get it down, but it's about going out and playing with passion and intensity, like Ray does."
Playing without their leader, the Ravens will have to learn how to win on their own today.
"I'm going to ask them: `Are you going to tear down the tent, pack it up and go home? Or are you going to step up to the challenge?' " Billick said. "Let's find out what this team is about with these odds."
Site:RCA Dome, Indianapolis
TV/Radio:Ch. 13/WJFK (1300 AM), WQSR (102.7 FM)
Line:Colts by 7
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