Resonating more clearly than loss: answering call

Colts 22, Ravens 20

October 14, 2002|By MIKE PRESTON

INDIANAPOLIS - The Ravens passed their first gut check of the season yesterday. They didn't win, but they learned a lot about themselves, which sometimes is just as important as a victory.

It's hard not to get wrapped up in the emotions of the Ravens' 22-20 loss to Indianapolis yesterday as Colts kicker Mike Vanderjagt kicked a 38-yard field goal with four seconds remaining. The Ravens had this won until an official made a bonehead call on fourth-and-10 with one minute remaining to keep the game-winning drive alive.

But there is a bigger picture here. The Ravens were without the best defensive player on the planet in inside linebacker Ray Lewis and one of the game's best pass rushers in Michael McCrary. They were also missing starting wide receiver Brandon Stokley and center Mike Flynn because of injuries.

They played in the RCA Dome, where the noise level is so loud that it becomes a distraction for the home team.

Jimmy the Greek would have bet on the Colts; so would have any Vegas bookmaker.

And guess what?

A team with 17 rookies that had played two previous games on national television took a team with quarterback Peyton Manning, receiver Marvin Harrison and running back Edgerrin James to within a hair of losing only its second game of the season.

"These guys took another step today. They learned that this team isn't all about me, but about each other," Lewis said. "We played hard because these guys now know what it takes to win, and how it feels to win. We took the first step two weeks ago against Denver, and everybody thought it was a fluke. Then we beat Cleveland in Cleveland, and would have beat Indy in Indy if one guy doesn't make the wrong call.

"These guys fought their asses off, played one heck of a game, and a b------- call at the end of the game caused them to lose it," Lewis said.

The controversial call came with the Ravens ahead 20-19. Outside linebacker Peter Boulware had flushed Manning to his left when Manning, throwing across his body, released a desperation pass to receiver Qadry Ismail, who had gotten tangled up with cornerback Gary Baxter along the sideline at the Ravens' 42.

Baxter was called for interference, which set off a barrage of protests from the Ravens' sideline.

Was it actually interference?

Only in the fact that Baxter never turned around to look at the ball. Ismail later admitted that he flopped.

Was the ball catchable?

Only if Ismail was as tall as Chinese basketball star Yao Ming and had the vertical leap of Vince Carter.

"Sometimes you have to be a good actor and then look at the ref," Ismail said.

"It hurts knowing the game was right there," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "What a win could have done for these guys emotionally to back up the way they played. It's unfortunate sometimes when the game is taken out of their hands, and it's hard to learn a lesson that way, but that's the lesson we're going to have to learn. We matured greatly within the game."

You keep waiting for this team to have the great meltdown, and this could have easily been the day. The Ravens trailed in this game twice, but kept climbing and fighting to get back.

They never, ever quit.

Oh, they played bad enough to lose.

Seven fumbles, two of which they lost, will allow a team to only complain so much about the officiating. But with this team, you look for signs of improvement, and they get better every week. Doubts arose during the offseason about Mike Nolan replacing Marvin Lewis as the team's defensive coordinator, but in the past two weeks there hasn't been a more prepared team.

Except for Indianapolis' opening five-play, 73-yard drive, the Ravens dictated the pace. They shut down the Colts' screen, shuffle passes and slant-in. They held James to 43 yards on 17 carries. The Colts couldn't get a handle on Boulware because Nolan had him moving around the line of scrimmage.

Second-year inside linebacker Ed Hartwell had 11 tackles, and was hurling his body all over the field. Defensive tackles Kelly Gregg and Maake Kemoeatu dominated inside, and for the first time this season, the Ravens had a pass rush up the middle. It was Kemoeatu who pressured Manning into an interception at the Ravens' 18 with 7:10 left.

"That's the thing that frustrates me more than anything else," Gregg said. "The young guys and the guys that were called to step up really played and worked hard. They did everything the coaches asked them to do. I think this is the best thing that ever happened to us today."

There were some positive signs on offense as well with receiver Travis Taylor (four catches for 57 yards) finally becoming involved in the offense, tight end Todd Heap continuing to make big plays and running back Jamal Lewis (21 carries, 75 yards) playing on AstroTurf for the first time since his knee injury in August 2001.

The Ravens are still struggling on offense, but at least Billick now is taking more chances downfield instead of being conservative like in the losses in the first two weeks. It wasn't pretty, but what do you expect from this team?

Now, if only third-year quarterback Chris Redman can become more accurate and release the ball sooner. His quarterback rating was 56.1 yesterday.

"We need and will get better," Billick said. "But they didn't blink without Ray Lewis."

Maybe Gregg summed it up the best.

"You have to learn how to roll with the punches in this league," he said. "We leave here with a sour taste in our mouth, but that makes us eager to get out there next week and get rid of it. We learned one part of a lesson today. Next week, we'll respond, and that will determine if we have learned the second part."

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