Ravens embrace Monday spotlight

October 04, 2004|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

The bright lights of Monday Night Football - along with major swirling issues - will engulf M&T Bank Stadium, where the Ravens are determined to match running games and motivations with the Kansas City Chiefs tonight.

The Chiefs are driven by desperation after watching their Super Bowl aspirations dissolve with an 0-3 start.

The Ravens are fueled by a desire to send a nationwide message during their only appearance in football's premier regular-season showcase, despite the distractions surrounding Jamal Lewis' drug conspiracy case.

"I truly believe this Monday night is to show how good we really are," linebacker Ray Lewis said. "I think we're going to expose to the world that we're back again to make this run."

The Chiefs are off to their worst start since 1980 because of penalties, untimely turnovers and a porous run defense. The defending AFC West champions have gone 4-7 since opening the 2003 season with nine straight wins.

The Ravens are the wrong team to look to for sympathy.

Lewis' legal troubles have marred a week in which the Ravens were preparing for the fourth Monday night game in franchise history. The running back is expected to enter a guilty plea as soon as this week (under which he eventually would serve four to six months in prison), according to people familiar with the agreement, and then would be in jeopardy of facing disciplinary action from the NFL.

Although the punishment ultimately would be handed down by commissioner Paul Tagliabue, one league source speculated yesterday that Lewis could be suspended by the NFL for four games this season and receive a fine. Losing the NFL's 2003 Offensive Player of the Year for a quarter of the season would be a significant blow for a team in a tight division race.

The Ravens (2-1) are a half game behind the Pittsburgh Steelers (3-1) in the AFC North.

"Kansas City isn't the only desperate team playing on Monday," Ray Lewis said. "We have the same mentality as Kansas City has - we can't afford a loss. So it's going to be two desperate teams going at it. We want to stay ahead of our division, so we're just as desperate as them."

Focus could become Jamal Lewis' most formidable opponent tonight.

Kansas City has the fourth-worst run defense in the NFL, surrendering career games to the Denver Broncos' Quentin Griffin (156 yards) and Carolina Panthers' DeShaun Foster (174). In allowing 15 runs of 10-plus yards in three games, the Chiefs have gone to a four-linebacker package to further crowd the line of scrimmage.

But it's unclear which Lewis will show up. Will it be the back who ran for 186 yards in Cincinnati last week, or the man who is concerned about his Thursday hearing in Atlanta?

"It hasn't affected his performance in two years," said Ravens coach Brian Billick, alluding to the fact that Lewis had known about this incident before this season. "So I don't know why it would on Monday."

Just as much as the Ravens depend on Lewis offensively, the Chiefs rely on running back Priest Holmes.

A mentor to Lewis when the two were teammates with the Ravens in 2000, Holmes entered Week 4 second in the NFL with 351 rushing yards and has scored half of Kansas City's eight touchdowns.

The team that gains more yards rushing, Holmes says, will win.

"The production on run offense is going to be crucial because we're going to come into this game knowing Jamal is going to be given a heavy dosage of the rushing attack and I'll be given the same," Holmes said. "It's going to be a combination of which one of us is going to be ready to play and which one of us is going to be able to break the big run."

When the Ravens eclipse 100 yards rushing and hold the opposing running back under that mark, they are 30-6 (.833) under Billick.

The Ravens haven't allowed a 100-yard rusher in nine games, which is tied with the Detroit Lions for the longest current streak in the league.

In fact, the Ravens have surrendered 100 yards to only eight running backs since 2000, the fewest in the NFL over that span. But half of that total came in the 11 games when Ray Lewis was sidelined with a shoulder injury in 2002.

"We always take that challenge when inviting a running back into our house," Ray Lewis said. "We understand you are the primary target. We don't believe in 100-yard rushers."

After tonight, the Ravens will finish up their October schedule by facing the Washington Redskins and the Buffalo Bills (teams with a combined 1-6 record) before meeting the Philadelphia Eagles (4-0).

The Ravens, though, insist they are not overlooking Kansas City, one of the NFL's five remaining winless teams.

"They don't have anything to lose," Ravens cornerback Gary Baxter said of the Chiefs. "At the same time, everybody had high expectations of Kansas City being a Super Bowl pick. Sooner or later, it's got to turn for them. We just don't want them to turn it around on us."

Ravens tonight

Matchup: Kansas City Chiefs (0-3) vs. Ravens (2-1)

Site: M&T Bank Stadium

Time: 9

TV/Radio: Chs. 2, 7/WJFK (1300 AM), WQSR (102.7 FM)

Line: Ravens by 6


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