Ravens' 1st tests: Steelers, Browns

Team to open '03 season at Pittsburgh

schedule has 3-game homestand

April 04, 2003|By Brent Jones | Brent Jones,SUN STAFF

Because of free-agent additions and the experience gained by their young players, Ravens officials have spent much of the past few weeks optimistic that the team is better than the one that ended last season with a 34-31 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers.

The NFL schedule-makers are giving the Ravens an early chance to prove how far they have come.

The Ravens will travel to Pittsburgh in Week 1 to take on the defending AFC North champions on Sept. 7. The team's home opener will be the following week against another division rival, the Cleveland Browns, who beat the Ravens, 14-13, on a fourth-quarter comeback drive the week before the 2002 season finale.

The Steelers will travel to Ravens Stadium for a Sunday night game the last week of the regular season, and the Ravens will play at Cleveland the week before that.

"Pittsburgh, I imagine, will be the team picked to win the division," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "I don't see any reason why they won't be picked as the front-runner. Yeah, we're going to pit ourselves against them right from the get-go, and it should be a good measurement for us."

In between the games with Pittsburgh and Cleveland, the Ravens will have a three-game homestand from late November to early December, three West Coast trips and yet another home game against former division rival Jacksonville, now headed by ex-Ravens linebackers coach Jack Del Rio.

The homestand begins with two NFC West teams, the Seattle Seahawks (Nov. 23) and San Francisco 49ers (Nov. 30), who will make their first trip to Ravens Stadium, and ends with a homecoming on Dec. 7, when Cincinnati Bengals coach Marvin Lewis brings his team to the city where he spent six seasons as defensive coordinator.

"It's always exciting competing against friends and guys you've worked with before, so we are looking forward to that," Billick said.

The Ravens' three trips to the West Coast are evenly spread out, with the first coming at San Diego in September, followed by a game at Arizona in October and ending with a visit to Oakland in December.

"My biggest concern going in was the West Coast runs and how they were going to be grouped together," Billick said. "They are spaced out well, but the problem is that on three out of the four [including a trip to St. Louis on Nov. 9], we have go to on the road again [the next week] after going on a West Coast trip. That's a concern of mine, but so be it."

The Ravens also will travel to Miami (Nov. 16). It will be the fourth straight year the Ravens have played in Miami, though one was a playoff game in the 2001 season.

Overall, six of the 16 games are against playoff teams from a year ago, and only two of those games are outside of the division, when the Ravens travel to face the Raiders and play host to the 49ers. However, just six of the 16 games are against teams with losing records.

While the Ravens have Sunday night prime-time games against the Rams and Steelers, the team will not have a Monday night game for the first time since the 2000 season.

"Evidently, they don't think we are going to be very good," Billick said. "Evidently we weren't entertaining enough in that Denver game [last season], so we'll have to put on some fireworks and maybe earn one next year."

Despite the Monday night snub, the season will not be short on story lines. Former Ravens running back Priest Holmes will make his first visit to Ravens Stadium since leaving for Kansas City as an unrestricted free agent after the 2000 season.

Holmes, who has led the NFL in total yards from scrimmage the past two seasons, and the Chiefs visit Sept. 28.

"What a great story Priest has been," Billick said. "With the affection we have for Priest, this city has for Priest, that is going to be exciting."

As should what would ordinarily be a bland-looking game against Arizona. But the defection of the Ravens' 2002 starting quarterback, Jeff Blake, to the Cardinals, combined with a subtle jab by Billick yesterday, should make for an interesting trip to the desert.

"How about that?" Billick said of facing Blake. "We'll see if he's the starting quarterback when we get down there. He's down there supposedly to compete, so I'd imagine he will be."

Ravens 2003 schedule

Date Opponent Time

Sept. 7 at Pittsburgh 1 p.m.

Sept. 14 Cleveland 1 p.m.

Sept. 21 at San Diego 4:15 p.m.

Sept. 28 Kansas City 1 p.m.

Oct. 5 Open date

Oct. 12 at Arizona 4:15 p.m.

Oct. 19 at Cincinnati 1 p.m.

Oct. 26 Denver 1 p.m.

Nov. 2 Jacksonville 1 p.m.

Nov. 9 at St. Louis 8:30 p.m.

Nov. 16 at Miami 1 p.m.

Nov. 23 Seattle 1 p.m.

Nov. 30 San Francisco 1 p.m.

Dec. 7 Cincinnati 1 p.m.

Dec. 14 at Oakland 4:05 p.m.

Dec. 21 at Cleveland 1 p.m.

Dec. 28 Pittsburgh 8:30 p.m.

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