For Ravens, desperation is necessary

October 06, 2004|By John Eisenberg

DESPERATION was a powerful motivator Monday night.

The Chiefs, winless in three games, clearly needed a win more than the Ravens, who entered the weekend tied for first place in the AFC North.

The difference was evident on the field, where the Chiefs surprisingly pushed around the Ravens.

It was also was evident in the post-game locker room, where the Ravens were rational, professional and ABD - anything but desperate - in defeat.

"That wasn't us; we will be back and we know it," linebacker Ray Lewis said after one of his least effective games.

"We're not going to blink," defensive end Tony Weaver added. "We can't have that hint of doubt in our minds that maybe we're not as good as we thought."

Actually, that hint of doubt is exactly what they need.

It's time for the Ravens to start playing with desperation, that sharp edge that comes with being afraid of the future.

If they aren't, they should be.

They have ceded first place in the division to the Steelers. Their passing offense is the NFL's least productive. Their best offensive weapon, Jamal Lewis, could soon be suspended. Their proud defense just got royally whipped.

And if all that isn't enough to raise concerns, their schedule is brutal.

After the Ravens play the struggling Redskins on Sunday night at FedEx Field in Landover, their remaining road opponents are the 3-0 Jets, 4-0 Eagles, 3-0 Patriots, 3-1 Steelers and 3-1 Colts.

The home schedule is somewhat softer, featuring only two opponents currently over .500 (Cowboys and Giants) and two that haven't won in 2004 (Bills and Dolphins).

But the road schedule alone contains enough potential losses to knock the Ravens out of the playoffs.

Ravens coach Brian Billick had better convince his players they're in a win-or-else situation starting immediately.

The Redskins, at 1-3 under Joe Gibbs, will be just as desperate Sunday as the Chiefs were, leaving the Ravens possibly sensing less motivation than their opponents for a second week in a row.

It's the perfect time for Billick, supposedly a master motivator, to knead a dose of that jarring, panicky feeling into his players' collective psyche.

They simply can't afford to lose to the Redskins with so many arduous road games still to play, and they also can't afford to lose at home to Buffalo in the game after their bye.

If they aren't 4-2 heading into Philadelphia on Oct. 31, they'll be sorry later in the season.

But will that lead to hard, desperate performances in the coming weeks?

It's hard to imagine in a way, as there is a certain humility involved in such a mind-set, and the swaggering Ravens are about as far from it as any team can get.

Every team thinks highly of itself - that's called confidence - but the Ravens set the bar higher than most. They're likely to believe desperation is somehow beneath them, even after being shredded by the Chiefs.

They also aren't in obviously dire circumstances with their 2-2 record, sitting just a game behind the Steelers.

Maybe that's why their locker room was so eerily calm Monday night, with most players generally shrugging off the defeat as an example of what Lewis called "one of those bumps in the road that you can hit in a long season." (Jamal Lewis was an exception, his annoyance obvious after a loss in which he had just 15 carries.)

But was it just a bump? Or has a new, distressing reality dawned with the Ravens' defense now ranked - if you can believe this - 21st in the league?

The defensive players kept insisting it was a bump. "If you remember," Ray Lewis said, "the year we won the Super Bowl, no matter how good we were, we couldn't stop the Jacksonville Jaguars. You just put the game behind you and keep going. We'll be fine."

But fundamental differences between that (Super Bowl) defense and this one were evident Monday night.

That one had Pro Bowl linemen and massive run stoppers; this one has hard-working overachievers who are smaller and can sometimes be blocked, as they were Monday night.

That one had Peter Boulware; this one is waiting for the injured Boulware to make it back to the field.

That one was brutal on opposing passing games; this one is more forgiving, especially on third downs.

Yes, this one is still a talented defense that probably just had a bad game, but comparisons to the Super Bowl defense seem farfetched at this point.

And if they can't take their defense for granted, the Ravens certainly need to readjust their mental approach.

The Chiefs probably wouldn't have won Monday night if they had come to town with a 3-0 record rather than reverse. Desperation inspired them.

Think the Ravens took notes?

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