Ravens could pull together or just end up falling apart

Dolphins 9, Ravens 6

November 17, 2003|By Mike Preston

MIAMI -- The Ravens are a team at the crossroads. Despite coach Brian Billick's efforts to keep peace, they are on the verge of having internal problems and falling apart if they're not careful.

Only minutes after Billick said he would not let the media tear apart his team in the wake of the Ravens' 9-6 overtime loss to the Miami Dolphins, star linebacker Ray Lewis was heard screaming loudly in the shower.

According to a team source, Lewis was involved in separating offensive tackle Orlando Brown and line coach Jim Colletto during a brief exchange. There was no official comment on the incident, but it was symbolic of the recent direction of this team. Losing can cause problems.

The Ravens have played great defense and pathetic offense. They make big plays on defense and very few on offense, so they find themselves tied for first place in the woeful AFC North with the Cincinnati Bengals.

Actually, the Bengals have a slight lead because they beat the Ravens earlier this season. Now, isn't that something? The Bengals are in first place and the Ravens are struggling. Talk about role reversals.

"This loss hurts," said Ravens defensive back Gary Baxter. "When you lose like we lost, it's human nature to be mad. You're going to have guys with attitudes. But when it's all said and done, we've got to encourage each other. We'll put this behind us, and we'll be ready to rock and roll next week."

Hopefully for the Ravens, it will turn out that way. Four of the team's final six games are at home. There are signs, however, of a downward spiral. Running back Jamal Lewis might be getting tired from the pounding he took earlier in the season. He fumbled only once in his first 187 carries, but has fumbled three times in his past 53.

Starting quarterback Anthony Wright was ineffective yesterday in an offense that was designed for Chris Redman, the player he replaced after a poor second half against the St. Louis Rams last week.

And then there was the usual -- poor play-calling from the Matt and Brian Show and 10 penalties, most of them on the offensive side.

And you wonder why the defensive players may be a little upset?

They held Miami to 267 yards of total offense. They gave up only nine points to a team that started five of 14 possessions at the Miami 47 (twice) and the Ravens' 23, 43 and 33.

Billick might be able to keep players quiet publicly, but privately the boys are stewing.

"We understand what a team is," said Ray Lewis, who was heard screaming the words "Superman" and "a cape" from the shower area during the confrontation.

"It's defense, special teams and offense. We have to come in and do our job. We have to take pride that they didn't get in the end zone. When it's 6-6 and you have the ball, you have to win. You can't turn the ball over. It's not that complicated."

Regardless of where the Ravens finish this season, even if they win the Super Bowl, new owner Steve Bisciotti needs to force Billick to bring in some new offensive coaches and sign some big-time players. The Ravens have skill players who can't catch and a staff that doesn't know how to use the great ones it has.

This should be rookie Kyle Boller's playing time right now, but the Ravens are stuck with Wright because Billick killed Redman's confidence at the beginning of the season by naming Boller the starter.

Wright completed 14 of 25 passes for 112 yards yesterday, with two interceptions. His most costly mistake came with 5:11 left in regulation, on a second-and-10 from the Miami 36 when he threw behind tight end Todd Heap at the Dolphins' 30 and safety Sammy Knight picked it off and returned the ball 17 yards to kill the drive.

"It was a bad throw on my part," Wright said. "I couldn't step up into the pass and it therefore was a little behind."

But Billick and offensive coordinator Matt Cavanaugh also deserve the blame. This was a field-goal game, and the Ravens had the wind at that point.

Just run Jamal Lewis. No one cares if the Dolphins had eight or nine in the box, or even Jack in the box -- just run Lewis and bring on kicker Matt Stover, who already had field goals of 39 and 45 yards.

Another poor decision came at the end of the first half. On third-and-six from the Miami 31 with 41 seconds left, Wright was sacked for a 7-yard loss. Backup receiver Ron Johnson also received a personal-foul penalty to put the Ravens totally out of field-goal range.

But again, this was a field-goal game. Run Lewis.

Maybe the most embarrassing moment came after Lamont Brightful returned a kickoff 73 yards to the Dolphins' 15 with 11:12 left in the opening half. The Ravens had to call on Stover after losing 6 yards on the next three plays.

Billick was obviously irritated by the penalties and turnovers. Some were committed by two Pro Bowl players -- offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden and Heap.

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