Ravens can further lower fans' pulse rates

Ravens Vs. Bengels

September 26, 2004|By DAVID STEELE

THE RAVENS themselves never had to step back from any ledges. Still, there are a lot more unoccupied ledges around town these days compared to this time last week.

One week is all it took for the view to change, for temperatures to drop and for sanity to reign again. Of course, a week in an average NFL season is an eternity, and this one was as long and full of activity.

It all worked in the Ravens' favor, which will come as a shock to the local conspiracy theorists -- the hordes who believe the league and much of the universe has it in for this team. It also will come as a shock to those who saw Todd Heap helped off the field last Sunday. As he pondered that loss last week, coach Brian Billick wondered to listeners "what you people did to [tick] off the football gods."

But he also pointed out that his team is hardly alone in such misery and thus isn't begging for sympathy.

Certainly not, one could add, in a division with two other teams, the Browns and Steelers, literally coming apart at the seams. And not with two coming opponents in Kansas City and Washington with far more pressing problems to address immediately.

So the opponent right in front of them, the Bengals this afternoon, provides a unique opportunity for the Ravens to set themselves firmly back on the proper path, the one they'd envisioned themselves walking throughout the offseason and as the regular season began. It's a chance for the Ravens to prove that the debacle in Cleveland was just a temporary detour instead of a complete change of direction.

Again, they appear to have the mind-set of a group that isn't easily swayed by losses and calamity, no matter how dire. "I think we're still on the same pace," said Jamal Lewis, who is equally convinced he'll soon return to his own normal pace.

"We know what we have to do as a team, and we have to put it together. I think that first loss to Cleveland really opened our eyes. ... [But] we're still looking at things the same way we did in the beginning of the year. Everything's still the same way we saw it."

For them, it is. For the others within their view, everything has changed.

The Browns, for instance, are already a shell of the team that pulled away from the Ravens on opening day. The Cowboys knocked them down several pegs the following week, inducing Jeff Garcia to produce the Bluto Blutarsky passing rating: 0.0.

Then, the aforementioned football gods decided to yank, twist and snap various players' limbs, joints and bones one by one. The Browns might have to have a couple of equipment managers to suit up against the Giants today.

Meanwhile, the Steelers were doing their own cracking and crumbling, as well. The Ravens rendered Tommy Maddox's throwing arm useless Sunday, which actually was a redundancy considering how he was playing up to that point. Then, rather than celebrating (or at least supporting) the ascent of first-round pick Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers center Alan Faneca decided that knocking the kid around in public would be more productive.

By week's end, Bill Cowher was forced to issue a public vote of confidence of his own players in his starting quarterback before he'd started his first game.

The Ravens' problems thus became even less serious.

If you're not totally convinced, though, think of this: Billick hasn't been reduced to motivating his team by playing the diaper card.

That being said, congratulations to Dick Vermeil, coach of the winless and underachieving Chiefs. "It's time, young man, time to take off your diapers and go to work." That even tops Bill Parcells' Hall of Fame "she" crack on Terry Glenn. See, you can bring someone's manhood under nationwide scrutiny without being sexist about it.

The one mark against it: Vermeil wasted it on Larry Johnson, a third-string tailback. The guys who really deserved it were the starters on the other side of the ball, the true reason the Ravens' fellow Super Bowl hopefuls are 0-2.

The last Ravens opponent before the bye week is the Redskins, who might know who their quarterback is by then, among other troubling issues. More on them much, much later.

All of this is well and good, of course, as long as the Ravens can get the job done today at Paul Brown Stadium. A loss on the road to a Bengals team growing in talent and confidence, one that was the Ravens' biggest obstacle in the division, anyway, wouldn't pack the same punch as the Browns' loss did.

A win, however, would send a definitive message: that this team is capable of shrugging off bad losses, of making do with what it has got, of rising to the occasion, of steadying itself when conditions are ripe for them to get blown off course.

Chances are a Ravens win today won't be pretty; it would only have been so attractive, even with Heap. But they'll take it, count their blessings and sail on.

And everyone in town will breathe easier -- and step back further from the ledges.

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