Billick: Ravens won't lose sight of playoff goal

Team is strong enough to go forward, coach says

Pro Football

December 07, 2004|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

A day after the Ravens inexplicably fell apart in a 27-26 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals, it was time to pick up the pieces.

Coach Brian Billick ordered his first Monday team meeting in a month, breaking down the mistakes in an hourlong film review and attempting to refocus his players for the pivotal final quarter of the regular season.

Billick's message: The Ravens have lost two straight games but haven't lost sight of the playoffs.

"I am confident, having met with them collectively, that they understand what's in front of them and the potential to get done what we originally set out to do," Billick said. "I think this team is strong enough to go forward. This team will be resilient. We've put it now officially behind us."

What's ahead of the Ravens is a fuzzy playoff picture. There are scenarios in which the Ravens would not make the postseason with 11 wins but others in which they would make it with just nine victories.

The Ravens (7-5), who host the New York Giants on Sunday, are tied with the Denver Broncos for the sixth and final AFC wild-card berth.

If both teams win out - which is a major long shot - the Broncos would get the sixth spot based on the common games tiebreaker. So, in one way, the fourth-quarter collapse against the Bengals cost the Ravens control over their own playoff fate.

However, if the Ravens and Denver win the games in which they're expected to be favored (which means the Ravens beating the Giants and the Dolphins at home and the Broncos beating the Dolphins at home and the Titans on the road), the Ravens would get the edge with a 9-7 record as a result of the fourth tiebreaker, strength of victory.

"I don't know ... what it's going to take to get into the playoffs," Billick said. "Is it 11-5? Is it 10-6? Is it 9-7? Are we in that mix? Absolutely. Are a whole bunch of other teams? Absolutely."

With every AFC division leader holding at least a two-game advantage, there are six teams vying for the final two wild-card spots.

The New York Jets (9-3) have the best record of the contenders but the toughest remaining schedule (home against Seattle and New England and on the road against Pittsburgh and St. Louis).

Of the three 6-6 teams - Jacksonville, Cincinnati and Buffalo - the Jaguars have the easiest road (three losing teams left on the schedule), and the Bills have been the hottest (winning five of their past six). The Bengals probably don't have much of a chance considering they still have to travel to New England and Philadelphia.

As for the Ravens, the players have taken a simple approach.

"If we keep losing, heck, we ain't going," linebacker Adalius Thomas said. "It's not like it's rocket science. You've got to win to get to the playoffs."

In addressing other issues in his news conference, Billick was on defense more than his team was Sunday. He refused to explain the defensive breakdowns, the offensive play-calling or the exact status of running back Jamal Lewis.

Asked about the errors made by his usually stout defense, Billick repeatedly said, "We have to play better."

Asked why he chose to run on third-and-nine midway through the fourth quarter and settle for a field goal to go up 23-17, he said, "Very rarely do we call plays to position for a field goal. ... There is a balance between being prudent and leaving yourself vulnerable for the ultimate goal, which is to score and put yourself in the lead, and being aggressive and taking a shot.

"We've won a lot of games when it was the right sequence of events to put your offense or defense in a position to do what they do well."

As for injuries, Billick said tight end Todd Heap had no setbacks with his ankle after playing 25 snaps Sunday and would have no restrictions on his playing time Sunday against the Giants. He indicated punter Dave Zastudil would return, too.

Billick, though, was more vague on Lewis.

He disputed a recent report in The Sun that said Lewis likely would miss Sunday's game and come back Dec. 19 in Indianapolis. But minutes later, Billick admitted that return date might be accurate.

Lewis, who wore a protective boot walking around the locker room yesterday, is in the midst of his least productive season, gaining 651 yards on 159 carries. His backup, Chester Taylor, has nearly as many yards (570) on fewer carries (123).

"I don't know that Indianapolis won't be the first time [Lewis] will come back into the game," Billick said. "I expect him to participate this week. To what degree and how he feels the next day, that remains to be seen."

What also remains to be seen is how the Ravens bounce back from their first losing streak in more than a year, dating back to November last season.

It appears to be a delicate time for the Ravens, especially after linebacker Ray Lewis seemed to question the team's mind-set Sunday against the Bengals.

"We've been in crises many times before from offense, defense to special teams," Thomas said. "It's very crucial to remain a team because everybody's emotions are real high right now. You're disappointed from the loss we took. At the same time, you have to remain a professional and say the season is not over."

Next for Ravens

Matchup: New York Giants (5-7) vs. Ravens (7-5)

Site: M&T Bank Stadium

When: Sunday, 1 p.m.

TV/Radio: Ch. 45/WJFK (1300 AM), WQSR (102.7 FM)

Line: Ravens by 9 1/2

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