Loss to Patriots in Foxboro mud won't slow down Ravens' playoff drive

December 01, 2004|By PETER SCHMUCK

IT'S IMPOSSIBLE to sugarcoat what happened to the Ravens in the second half of Sunday's game against the New England Patriots, but I'm going to jump off the NFL emotional roller coaster and let everybody else jump off the Ravens' bandwagon.

Sure, the Patriots are the superior team - by far, at the moment - and they've got two of the past three Super Bowl trophies to prove it. Sure, the Ravens got buried so deep in that swamp in Foxboro that it would be hard to find any forensic evidence that they were ever there.

It was so one-sided that it's small consolation the Ravens might get another shot at the Patriots in the postseason, especially when a playoff rematch would almost certainly take place in New England in the dead of winter. I'm having visions of that infamous snowplow rushing onto the field to clear the linebackers off Kyle Boller.

Still, I'm a little surprised at the lack of real perspective being displayed in the aftermath of a game that should have been forgotten faster than Britney Spears' first wedding. The conditions were ridiculous. The Ravens were out-manned. They weren't supposed to win anyway, so who cares whether it was a close game or not?

The loss may have cost them any real chance of winning their division, but they still came out of it with a 7-4 record that equals their best after 11 games in the brief Baltimore history of the transplanted franchise. That ought to count for something.

The Ravens have been without star running back Jamal Lewis for four of the past six games. They have been playing most of the season without Pro Bowl tight end Todd Heap. All-Pro offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden missed four games. Cornerback Chris McAlister has been banged up. Linebacker Peter Boulware never suited up this season ... and won't.

Now, be honest. If I had told you at the start of the season that the Ravens would play short-handed all year - at one point going without four Pro Bowl players - would you have believed that they would win seven of their first 11 games and still have a decent chance to make the playoffs?

Well, I'm sure some of you would. There are always a few people out there willing to believe in UFOs and vast right-wing conspiracies and that the NFL didn't know anything about that Desperate Housewives spoof on Monday Night Football which, frankly, I still can't get out of my mind. But the Ravens have no right to be doing as well as they are doing at this point, so it's hard to take seriously the notion that they were exposed over the weekend (like Nicollette Sheridan in the Eagles' locker room).

The Ravens are no lock to reach the postseason, but that should have been apparent almost from the outset. It became more apparent, of course, when Ben Roethlisberger turned the Steelers into the best team in the AFC North and the San Diego Chargers emerged as a surprise contender in the West. In short, nothing really was lost in the mud on Sunday, other than the hubris that bubbled up during Boller's three-game hot streak.

The task remains the same. The Ravens need to win their three remaining home games (which is not a lock either) and pull a road upset in either Indianapolis or Pittsburgh to finish the regular season with 11 wins and, presumably, lock up a playoff berth.

There is no guarantee that 11 wins will be enough, but no team has ever failed to reach the postseason after winning that many games, and the Ravens hold tiebreaker advantages over the two other teams (the Jets and Broncos) who figure most prominently in the battle for the two AFC wild-card berths.

Of course, in the upset-a-week NFL, the Ravens could get bounced out of M&T Bank Stadium this weekend by the Cincinnati Bengals, who scored 58 points against the Browns on Sunday and cost Cleveland coach Butch Davis his job yesterday.

If that happens, we won't have to worry about keeping things in perspective anymore.

Contact Peter Schmuck at peter.schmuck@baltsun.com.

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