Team back to practice with optimistic outlook

Coming off bye week, Oct. schedule favorable


October 06, 2003|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

Coming off yesterday's bye, the Ravens' voice of experience rang with optimism.

Minutes after their first practice in a week, ninth-year cornerback Corey Fuller predicted a strong run for the Ravens over the final three months of the regular season and a berth in the playoffs.

"Honestly, I'm going on the record and say I see this team being 11-5 - at worst," said Fuller, who has reached the playoffs in four of his previous eight seasons. "I'm going to take a leap of faith. I believe we're good enough to pull it off."

The Ravens (2-2) are now alone in first place in the AFC North after Pittsburgh's loss to Cleveland last night. The Ravens face teams with losing records in eight of the remaining 12 games, beginning with Sunday's trip to the Arizona Cardinals. But Fuller's confidence isn't based on looking ahead; it's in evaluating the Ravens' recent past.

"I'm a proponent that last week they didn't beat us, we beat ourselves," said Fuller alluding to the 17-10 loss to the unbeaten Kansas City Chiefs. "If we can eliminate our mistakes and play like we're capable of playing, it's going to be hard to beat us. It's not like I'm cocky or arrogant. I just believe in what we're doing as a team and what we're striving for."

That conviction comes in a month that will likely either make or break the Ravens' season.

Three opponents in October - Arizona, Cincinnati and Jacksonville - are a combined 3-12. The Denver Broncos (4-1) are the only team in the Ravens' four-game stretch with a winning record, but they have lost to the Ravens in each of the past three seasons.

"The next quarter of the season is going to be very important," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "It's one that we're going to know a lot about ourselves. We have an opportunity - and only an opportunity - to establish ourselves in a way that we're familiar with."

Familiarity means reaching the halfway point with a 5-3 record. In both of the Ravens' playoff seasons - 2000 and 2001 - the Ravens won five of their first eight games.

The key to those years was the Ravens' performance in November and December. In the previous four seasons under Billick, the Ravens own a combined 22-10 record in those months, which is the third-best mark in the league.

"It's going to be an interesting month," Billick said. "Certainly a 6-2 or a 5-3 start given our history in November and December would be very, very encouraging."

The business at hand is consecutive road trips at one-win teams, playing at Arizona and Cincinnati.

The Cardinals, in particular, have self-destructed this season. Jeff Blake, the Ravens' starting quarterback last season, threw two interceptions and was sacked twice for safeties in yesterday's 24-7 loss to the Dallas Cowboys.

"You see the opportunity to be either in a nice position when we meet Denver or be fighting for our life," Fuller said.

The Ravens' meeting with Blake on Sunday begins a month full of reunions.

Against Cincinnati, they face former defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis. Against Denver, they see former tight end and locker room leader Shannon Sharpe. Against Jacksonville, they play former linebackers coach Jack Del Rio.

"We're connected all over the place," Billick said. "There's going to be a lot of subplots for the next month that are going to be fun. All those people we have a great affection for."

Before heading on that run of old teammates, the Ravens believe this bye helped refresh their most prominent newcomer, Kyle Boller.

The only rookie quarterback in NFL to start every game in the first month took a breather from the sport this week. He watched only a couple hours of film and threw just a little to a high school friend.

The rest will be the last for Boller, who has never played in more than 11 games in a season nor suited up past the last week of November.

"[The bye] gives you that time to sit back and absorb everything," Boller said. "It gives you time to marinate. The best part is my arm feels great. Now, I'm fired up to get back out there."

Next for Ravens

Matchup: Ravens (2-2) vs. Arizona Cardinals (1-4)

Site: Sun Devil Stadium, Tempe, Ariz.

When: Sunday, 4:15 p.m.

TV/Radio: Ch. 13/WJFK (1300 AM), WQSR (102.7 FM)

Line: Ravens by 5 1/2

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