Stakes already high for Ravens

Titans are in the same boat, so grudges all but forgotten

RAVENS vs. TITANS

September 18, 2005|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

The Ravens' first classic rivalry will be renewed today with a twist.

This one-time grudge match with the Tennessee Titans no longer carries playoff ramifications. Trash talking has been replaced by good-natured ribbing. And no one is carrying a two-by-four or a spear, either.

When the Ravens make their way back into The Coliseum in Nashville, Tenn., the focus is survival.

Both teams are dealing with embarrassing, season-opening losses and realize the ramifications of starting in an 0-2 hole.

"Every time we play them, something seems to be on the line," coach Brian Billick said. "And there's something on the line right now: We both want that nasty, foul taste out of our mouths from last Sunday. All but early in the season, there's a lot riding on it right now. It's just another chapter in the history we have with the Titans."

How important is it to avoid an 0-2 start? The past two times the Ravens did so resulted in their only non-winning seasons under Billick (1999 and 2002).

"For both of us, it really is a must win," Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis said.

Realistically, the Ravens have more to lose because their expectations are higher.

A salary cap crunch caused the Titans to part ways with a third of their starters, transforming them into the NFL's youngest team. But players and coaches sounded skeptical when asked to compare Tennessee's situation to the Ravens' dismantling in 2002.

"I don't know if they blew this team up," Billick said. "I still see [quarterback] Steve McNair and [linebacker] Keith Bulluck. I still see those two safeties and that big offensive line. They just kind of firecrackered the team."

The Ravens are concerned with more pressing issues of their own.

They are undergoing a change at quarterback -- Anthony Wright takes over for the injured Kyle Boller -- and are coming off a season opener in which they were 13 seconds away from getting shut out by the hardly stout Indianapolis Colts' defense.

The solution to the Ravens' struggles seems straightforward: Run Jamal Lewis.

The Titans' defense surrendered 206 yards rushing to the Pittsburgh Steelers last Sunday. Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger needed to throw just 11 times.

Billick indicated Friday there would be no limitations on the number of carries for Lewis. He previously wanted to ease Lewis back after the running back missed most of the preseason with a bone spur in his ankle.

But Lewis had prodded Billick to reconsider earlier in the week.

"Just let the horse run," Lewis said. "Let me go."

The Ravens have won their past seven games when Lewis has more than 20 carries. Meanwhile, the Titans have allowed a 100-yard rusher in eight of their past 16 games.

"We either get better or we'll get our [butts] kicked," Titans middle linebacker Brad Kassell said.

The news of the Ravens' quarterback change also didn't go over well with Tennessee.

"I'd rather play against Kyle Boller than Anthony Wright," Bulluck said. "Wright seems to be a better decision-maker and seems to know what to do with the ball."

This isn't the sort of banter normally associated with the Ravens and the Titans.

Even the coaches used to get caught up in the emotion of the old AFC Central feud.

After a 2001 playoff win in Tennessee, Billick said: "When you go into the lion's den, you don't tippy-toe in. You carry a spear. You go in screaming like a banshee and say, 'Where's the son of a bitch?' "

A year later, Titans coach Jeff Fisher asked his players to bring "two-by-fours to lay some wood into the Ravens."

But this time, the swagger has been replaced with desperation.

"Our circumstances are exactly the same," Billick said. "We are two teams in dire need of a win."

Ravens today

Matchup: Ravens (0-1) at Tennessee Titans (0-1)

Time: 1 p.m.

TV/Radio: Ch. 13/1300 AM, 102.7 FM

Line: Ravens by 4

Inside

Scouting report, rosters. Page 6D

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