From rookies and first-year starters, turnovers are expected. From Jamal Lewis and Brandon Stokley, such carelessness is intolerable.
Lewis and Stokley both lost fumbles during the Ravens' 17-10 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday, and coach Brian Billick made a point after the game to say the fumbles have to stop.
The Ravens have fumbled 10 times in the past three games and have lost five - a disturbing mark in an otherwise pleasantly surprising season for Billick. Sunday's turnovers came on back-to-back possessions in the second quarter, and both gave Jacksonville the ball in Ravens territory.
Lewis' came first, two plays after the Jaguars turned the ball over on downs at the Ravens' 12-yard line.
"The frustration is because you're talking about two veterans," Billick said. "The frustration came out from me and from them. It's not like you had to remind them what they had done to the defense.
"We had a good opening run. We had two good runs, then Jamal after getting a good gain puts the ball on the ground. What that does to a defense emotionally, that's where my frustration was so high."
Jacksonville scored on Fred Taylor's 9-yard run after Lewis' fumble but failed to score any points on Stokley's turnover, which came after the receiver fell down on an end around, got up, then fumbled before he was hit.
"I don't know what you can do," Billick said of the turnovers. "If you've got a player that doesn't feel bad for it, doesn't realize how he left his team vulnerable, then you have a bigger problem. Then there is nothing you are going to do to correct that except get rid of that guy. Both of those guys were heartsick for doing that."
Filling in on the line
Without ever playing or practicing at right guard, Jason Thomas took his first snaps there against the Jaguars.
Thomas was a backup tackle for the Ravens last season, a backup center at the start of training camp and finally the top backup at left guard behind Edwin Mulitalo. He entered the game in the first quarter after Bennie Anderson reinjured his knee, but had to leave in the third quarter after suffering a calf contusion.
"I remember when I walked in there, [Mike] Flynn didn't even know I was in the huddle," said Thomas, who is the only offensive lineman who can play all five positions. "He was like, `Where's Bennie?' "
If Anderson hadn't returned, Damion Cook would have played right tackle and the Ravens would have been left with only five active offensive linemen. If another lineman had gotten hurt, Billick said tight end John Jones would have been inserted into the lineup.
T. Taylor draws praise
Travis Taylor had an average day receiving Sunday - four catches for 42 yards - but his downfield blocking drew praise.
"Travis Taylor had a particularly good game blocking," Billick said. "Travis continually tries to raise his level of play in everything he does. Obviously, the real focus for someone like Travis is what does he do on the outside, how many catches does he have? But ... there are usually some things going on outside as well. And Travis particularly did an outstanding job."
No contact with Brown
Despite injuries to their offensive line, the Ravens have not made any further attempts to contact Orlando Brown.
The veteran offensive lineman has not played since being hit in the eye by a weighted penalty flag during a Cleveland Browns game on Dec. 19, 1999. No doctor has yet assured Brown that he would not risk losing the eye if he returns to playing.
Brown has no official visits lined up with any team.
"There's nothing going on with him," agent Tom Condon told The Cleveland Plain Dealer. "He talked to the Redskins. ... To some extent, he's starved for some association with football."
Just when will the Ravens take the focus off being a young team just trying to get better to a team vying for one of the six AFC playoff berths?
"When I think it becomes more specific and relevant to the standings," Billick said. "And you can more readily see what the effect of a win or loss has on those chances on going to the playoffs. Winning or losing in the NFL is about one thing - can you make it to the playoffs?
"That's what the barometer is. This team is a long way from that and has to stay focused on the week-to-week, `Are we getting better?' So far we have. And as I said after the loss, and I'll say after the win, winning or losing is not the barometer we will use as coaching to see if we are getting better or not."
Hold onto those tickets
With first place on the line, Billick put forth a plea to Ravens fans not to sell their tickets to Sunday's home game against Pittsburgh. The Steelers historically have had more fans at Ravens Stadium than any other opponent.
"The numbers are diminished each year," Billick said. "Each year I think we are chipping away at that. I'm excited about that and the energy we'll have at the stadium for another home game."
Yesterday and today are days off for the players. ... Anderson will participate today as a guest teacher at Northwestern High as part of Teach for America Week 2002. ... Will Demps, Maake Kemoeatu, Anthony Mitchell, J.R. Jenkins, Adalius Thomas and Dave Zastudil will coach 250 children in the Gatorade Jr. Training Camp today at Clarence Du Burns Arena.
Sun staff writer Jamison Hensley contributed to this article.