Although injuries have dominated the news, the Ravens need to find a cure for their fourth-quarter quandary.
There was the pass interference penalty in Indianapolis, the fumble at the 1-yard line in Cleveland and the pass-blocking breakdown on the final drive in Carolina. In all three instances, the Ravens had the other team on the ropes in the final period and failed to deliver the knockout punch.
Moving past these late-game difficulties probably means passing a history test today against the Jacksonville Jaguars at Ravens Stadium. With eight of the 12 meetings decided by three points or fewer, the Ravens (2-3) might have to produce that elusive fourth-quarter blow - likely without injured linebacker Ray Lewis - to defeat the Jaguars (3-2).
"It's all about having that finishing attitude," Ravens running back Jamal Lewis said. "You've got to want to finish. Hopefully, this game, we can do that."
The Ravens and the Jaguars no longer reside in the same division, but these teams still share common ties.
Depleted by offseason salary-cap purges, these franchises have relied on a rebuilt cast and repaired running back to contend for their division lead. The Ravens are tied with Pittsburgh atop the AFC North, and Jacksonville is a game back of Indianapolis in the AFC South.
But the Ravens' veterans don't believe changing faces will change one of the most closely contested rivalries in the NFL. Last season, the Ravens swept the Jaguars by a total of four points, winning both times in the final minute.
"With them in particular, you just know it's going to be a long day," Ravens left tackle Jonathan Ogden said.
That's why it is necessary for the Ravens to avoid more fourth-quarter pitfalls today.
The Ravens have been outscored 44-10 in the final period this season, and the 34-point differential in the fourth quarter is tied with the New York Jets for the league's worst. Last year, a more mature Ravens team used its experience and poise to nearly double opponents in the fourth quarter, 119-61.
"You've got to learn how to finish the games," Ravens quarterback Chris Redman said. "We're getting closer, though."
One lesson already learned by the Ravens is playing without Ray Lewis. He is feeling stronger yet is expected to miss his second straight game with a partially dislocated left shoulder.
With Lewis on the sideline last week, the Ravens' defense surprisingly held its own against a high-powered Colts attack. Now, there's no fear of panicking if Lewis is again in dress clothes.
"There is less of the unknown," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "There was anxiousness on everyone's part on whether we could hold up with a caliber of that player down. Our guys played very well and were deserving to win. That's got to give them confidence going into this game if indeed Ray cannot go."
While the anxiousness is gone, the motivation to prove they're more than a one-man gang still exists.
"I think it's a big challenge when somebody tells you, you can't do something," Ravens inside linebacker Ed Hartwell said. "We went out there and proved that we can play as a defense. We have some great young guys and you better watch out in the future because we're going to make plays and we're going to be here for a while. I think the only thing that happened with us is that we got mad and we're going to try to take it out on everyone else."
In addition to Lewis, the Ravens have had to deal with injuries to center Mike Flynn (ankle), right guard Bennie Anderson (knee) and right tackle Ethan Brooks (back spasms). Flynn and Anderson are scheduled to start.
The team is prepared to go without Brooks and is weighing a couple of options. The Ravens could move left guard Edwin Mulitalo to right tackle and start Casey Rabach at left guard, or they could keep Mulitalo at left guard and replace Brooks with Damion Cook, who has never started an NFL game.
Asked about the mass injuries hitting the offensive line, Rabach said, "It's kind of like a disease getting caught by everyone."
Jacksonville has a similar injury concern with a reshuffled line in front of banged-up quarterback Mark Brunell, who sustained a concussion last week.
Brunell took most of the snaps in practice Thursday and Friday, and his headaches continue to subside. The only way he won't play will be if his headaches act up before game time.
Brunell's condition places more emphasis on running back Fred Taylor. But the Ravens, who have seen Brunell throw for more than 300 yards seven times, are expecting to see him fully recovered.
"He's not going to be out there unless he's sharp," Ravens outside linebacker Peter Boulware said. "We've got to be focused on his arm and his running ability. You can't think just because he had a concussion last week that he's going to be a little shaken up this week."
Whether Brunell is shaken up or not, the Ravens know winning today could hinge on their poise in the fourth quarter.
"I think each week we're getting closer to putting together a full game," Boulware said. "It's usually been a half and last week it was three quarters. We're going to get to the point where we stay focused the whole game. Once we start doing that, we'll be tough to beat."
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Today:A special section in The Sun commemorates the life and career of Colts legend John Unitas. [Section U]