Ravens see getting to 5-3 as playoff key

AFC North leaders have ridden that halfway mark to the postseason before

Jaguars loom, then rough road

Apologetic Billick sticks to his anti-replay stance

October 28, 2003|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

Burned by instant replay in Sunday's 26-6 win over the Denver Broncos, the Ravens are trying to rekindle a replay of another sort.

A 6 1/2 -point favorite over the reeling Jacksonville Jaguars, the Ravens are a win away from closing out the first half of the season at 5-3, a magic record for this franchise. The only two playoff berths in the team's eight-year history -- including the Super Bowl championship three seasons ago -- came when the Ravens won five of their first eight games.

Unlike those other roads to the postseason, the Ravens could reach the halfway point on top of a division. The Ravens, who are the only team in the AFC North with a winning record, hold a one-game lead over the Cincinnati Bengals (3-4), a 1 1/2 -game cushion over the Cleveland Browns (3-5) and a surprising two-game bulge on the Pittsburgh Steelers (2-5).

"If we get to 5-3, winning in November and December is not only going to be big for us making the playoffs but will be big in us possibly getting a first-round bye," linebacker Ray Lewis said. "With what we have in front of us right now, it can be special again in Baltimore."

Right in front of them are the Jaguars (1-6), one of four one-win teams in the league. Under former Ravens linebackers coach Jack Del Rio, Jacksonville has lost by an average of 10 points per game.

After the Jaguars, the Ravens will find out about their playoff-worthiness.

The second half of the season begins on the road in St. Louis and Miami before a home game against Seattle. Those three games are the only ones remaining against teams with current winning records. The Ravens will wrap up the regular season by facing all three divisional foes in December.

"[A 5-3 record] would put us in a good position," offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden said. "There's a big difference between 5-3 and 4-4. If you duplicate 5-3 [in the second half of the season], you go 10-6 and that generally makes the playoffs.

"It would be nice to continue on a path that we started. If we win this week against Jacksonville and make a run in the second half of the year, we'll see if we can get this thing done. We still have to see everyone in the division again so there's a long way to go still."

Although Brian Billick declined to assess his team until the midway point, the Ravens coach continued to call for an end to the league's instant replay system.

Billick's anger centers on Denver's replay challenge that took an 11-yard touchdown away from tight end Todd Heap. From reviewing the television footage, referee Ron Winter told Billick that there was definitive proof that Heap -- who lost his helmet in the end zone collision with linebacker Al Wilson -- had lost possession of the ball.

"The idea of instant replay was to remove the egregious error and I don't know if that's happening," said Billick, who also apologized for his more expletive-laced rant after Sunday's game. "I am among those group of people -- and that number is growing based on the phone calls I've gotten today from coaches around the league -- if indeed this is put to a vote in the offseason, the Baltimore Ravens will vote no to keeping instant replay in its current form."

The challenge system has not been kind to Billick.

In seven games this season, he has only won one of four challenges this season while opposing coaches have won one of their two challenges against the Ravens. The only replay reversal that has gone his way came two weeks ago in Cincinnati, when the officials overturned their call and gave Heap a 24-yard reception.

"The league says the officials are right over 90 percent of the time on the call from the field," Billick said. "Maybe it's better if we just live with that."

Despite a post-game tirade that has been a fixture on ESPN and local television, Billick said he doesn't foresee getting fined by the league for his comments.

"I've seen that floating around," Billick said. "I did not criticize an official. I did not criticize the league. I can't imagine that being a fineable offense. Believe me, the fine that I'm getting at home and from my mother [for cursing] is adding up."

Next for Ravens

Matchup: Jacksonville Jaguars (1-6) vs. Ravens (4-3)

Site: M&T Bank Stadium

When: Sunday, 1 p.m.

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

Line: Ravens by 6 1/2

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