Ravens' `P' word translates into zero room for mistakes

Ravens Vs. Steelers

September 19, 2004|By David Steele

IT'S KIND OF fun this time around to hear the Ravens use the "P" word. No one's afraid of talking about the playoffs this year. Quite the contrary, considering how deep into the playoffs they expect to go.

Not many of them, though, have uttered the "P" word that will determine their true fate. That word is "perfect." Under these circumstances, even at this extremely early date, the Ravens have to be perfect to win. Today against the Steelers, next week, probably the rest of the season.

Even as they saw themselves as Super Bowl contenders and showed the guts to say it out loud, they knew - they had to know - they were operating with a mighty thin margin for error, or for anything else. They could only afford to screw up so much. The offense could grind to a halt only so often. The quarterback could get away with only so many mistakes. The defense could get caught gambling only so many times. Only so many injuries could be tolerated.

Nor was there much slack to be cut by the schedule. Can't afford to slip up early. Not in the division, and not against opponents that certainly would be more beatable than the heavyweights down the road.

That was all before Cleveland on opening day.

Now, that margin for error is all but gone, and for nearly every reason listed above. So even if they don't use that "P" word - perfect - they'll have to live it. Without that "P" word, the other one won't have much meaning at all.

Now, the Ravens would hardly put it that way publicly. Their fervent belief is that they can handle challenges of this variety and quantity because they've handled some version of them all before. They also know math: This is Game 2 of a 16-week season, and it's the first at home. Great teams laugh in the face of 0-2 starts, even 0-2 starts against the Browns and Steelers. If they start 0-2, that is.

And they have a point. Don't, for instance, go around that locker room talking about how they're going to survive a halting, stumbling offense that relies on an unreliable quarterback, or how the defense really has to step up and pitch a shutout to compensate.

You'll hear from one defensive veteran, especially one who survived the Drought of 2000, a version of what Ray Lewis said this week:

"Since I've been around here, I've spoken the same thing. The offense is going to be what they're gonna be, period. I choose to believe that if you don't score, you don't win. Last week against Cleveland it was the same thing - if they don't score, they don't win. ... I've been down that road before. To even set your mind up to think about that is truly irrelevant, truly irrelevant when you think about our defense and how great we really can be."

As Lewis was saying this, of course, he knew he wouldn't have youngsters in front of him and beside him, and that even more kids would be on the other side of the ball. His reaction - as well as that of his defensive teammates, and of his coaches - was, basically, big whoop. Here's your chance to play, so get out there and play. Get up to speed and help us out.

The Randy Hymeses and Tony Pashoses and Maake Kemoeatus and Casey Rabachs of the roster weren't really factored into the Super Bowl blueprint. Weren't. They are now. But that happens. That's the NFL. If Brian Billick said it once last week, he said it a thousand times: "We'll deal with it."

To win, they'll have to deal with it very well. Perfectly, in fact.

The offense was far from perfect Sunday in Cleveland. It's easy to talk about how things could've been better with Jonathan Ogden, and he appears to be ready to play today. But he's not at full strength, and that only patches one hole in the line.

And how much it takes to create a connection between young Kyle Boller and his even younger receivers remains to be seen. (Of course, if he finds himself connecting with Deion Sanders, the whole "young" factor gets replaced by a new set of issues.)

Again, with a full complement of receivers and blockers, and with Boller being what he is at this point, the margin was slim. Today, they'd welcome "slim."

Besides, would "slim" have been good enough against the Steelers, whom no one was picking to do much this season and who didn't scare many last week by squeaking out a win at home over a Raiders team that went 4-12 last year? The Browns hadn't scared anyone going into last Sunday - and even with what they accomplished, they're not scaring many now. The Bengals should strike only so much fear into anyone next week.

But another showing by the Ravens resembling last week's, even under the circumstances, is going to scare a lot of people around here. To avoid it, they have to play ... well, you know.

Billick did describe the collection of obstacles gathering simultaneously around his team as a "perfect storm" of problems.

The "P" word. It just won't go away.

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