It seems I spoke too soon, because it's almost too late for Ravens

December 06, 2004|By PETER SCHMUCK

REMEMBER ME? I was the guy who lectured panicky Ravens fans last week on the importance of keeping things in perspective ... and giving the team credit for equaling its best 11-game record in spite of a wave of injuries and other unhappy occurrences.

So much for the power of positive thinking.

The Ravens still have a mathematical chance of reaching the postseason, but their late collapse against the Cincinnati Bengals yesterday revealed something that should allow you to clear your calendar for the first five weeks of next year. This isn't the 2000 team.

There used to be a resemblance - the big-play defense, the evolving offensive chemistry - but that team never gave back a big lead and never blinked during the homestretch. The Ravens not only blinked yesterday, but they also covered their eyes and tried to imagine that Carson Palmer wasn't really picking them apart for 24 points in the fourth quarter.

Bengals coach Marvin Lewis and offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski found all the holes in a Ravens defense that Lewis used to direct, and Palmer showed why he has a chance to be one of the all-time great NFL quarterbacks.

The Ravens simply let it happen, which is reason enough to wonder whether they have what it takes to stay alive in a playoff hunt that just got decidedly more difficult.

Lewis' familiarity with the Ravens' defensive personnel has to count for something, but he was extremely diplomatic when he was asked after the game about the way the Bengals moved the ball in the fourth quarter.

"That's a good football team," he said. "Today, we were able to move the ball and win."

That's it?

"That's all I'm going to say on that," Lewis said when someone tried to pose a similar question. "Talking about that isn't going to do me any good."

Palmer was a bit more forthcoming, conceding the insight Lewis brings into a game against the Ravens is valuable ... to a point.

"People change from year to year, and coaches change the things they do," Palmer said. "He knows their personnel and probably knows which guys on our team have a chance to beat guys on their team, but that only goes so far."

Nobody hates gaudy end-zone celebrations more than I do, but the unsportsmanlike conduct penalty called against the Bengals after T.J. Houshmandzadeh's touchdown reception late in the fourth quarter proved that the NFL needs to rethink the excessive celebration rule - for the umpteenth time.

Technically, Houshmandzadeh's chest bump with teammate Chad Johnson was illegal, but it was far from excessive and it almost helped determine the outcome of the game by guaranteeing the Ravens good field position for their final drive.

The game needs to be won or lost with big plays, not arbitrary penalties. Fifteen yards assessed on the ensuing kickoff is appropriate in egregious cases, but borderline TD celebrations should either carry a 5-yard assessment or be handled with a fine.

Free-agent pitcher Carl Pavano is in Baltimore for a get-acquainted visit, but don't get too excited about his chances of ending up in the Orioles' rotation.

Pavano will consider the Orioles, but I can tell you right now what he'll say when he signs with the Red Sox or Yankees. He'll thank the Orioles for their interest (and for helping to push the price up) before saying he just couldn't pass up the chance to be part of the legendary Sox/Yankees rivalry.

So let's stop wasting time and put together a trade for Kris Benson. Don't make me beg.

Rumor central: The hot rumor on campus at Stanford University has Ravens consultant Jim Fassel becoming the next coach of the Cardinal. That's possible, considering he has ties to the program, but Fassel has been on record expressing confidence he will get a head coaching job in the NFL next season.

Fassel was an assistant at Stanford from 1979 to 1983 and aided in the development of erstwhile Colts No. 1 draft choice John Elway.

In my column about the Ravens last week, I wrote that no NFL team had ever won 11 games and failed to make the playoffs, but reader Glenn Martin of Annapolis alertly pointed out the Denver Broncos went 11-5 in 1985 and did not get into the postseason.

I should have qualified the statistic by saying no team had missed the postseason after winning 11 games under the current playoff format. There were fewer wild-card teams in 1985, but that's no excuse.

I'm going to try to stay away from facts from now on. They seem to get me in trouble.

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

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