As Ravens begin to lose grip on season, they join O's trying to keep hold of fans

Commentary

September 19, 2005|By PETER SCHMUCK

In the moments after the Tampa Bay Devil Rays spoiled Fan Appreciation Weekend at Camden Yards, Orioles manager Sam Perlozzo called his team together and delivered a few choice words about the importance of not accepting failure - even in the final two weeks of a lost season.

He did not know that at almost the same time, Ravens coach Brian Billick was in the visitors' locker room at The Coliseum in Nashville, Tenn., trying to sort out many of the same issues after the first two weeks of a season already in crisis.

"Tell him to hang in there," Perlozzo said.

Perlozzo had the same message for the fans of both teams on an afternoon in which their fortunes met in what can only be described as a vortex of despair.

The Orioles dropped two of three to the lowly Devil Rays on a weekend when they were trying to exhibit some gratitude to a fan following that has endured perhaps the strangest and most disappointing three-month period in the history of the franchise.

The Ravens were dominated by a so-so Tennessee Titans team that exposed so many soft spots in Billick's supposed playoff contender that he declined to even try to enumerate them after the game.

"I couldn't begin at this point to intelligently articulate what we have to do," he said.

Here's a short list: Fix the offensive line. Find an effective quarterback. Shore up the running game. Recapture the old defensive chemistry. Find a way to come back after next weekend's bye and beat a pretty decent New York Jets team.

It won't be easy, but the collective ego of this sports town depends on the Ravens righting themselves before the season gets away. They have started 0-2 twice before during Billick's tenure and both times they failed to make the playoffs.

But the Ravens at least retain the possibility of redemption. The Orioles now are doomed (not mathematically, but for all practical purposes) to their eighth consecutive losing season. Perlozzo knows what the fans would appreciate most - a chance to be one of the teams playing meaningful games at this time of year.

"Everybody wants their team to win," he said. "I'm frustrated. I'm tired of losing. I've put in 10 years here and I want to be a winner. I want to win. I would like to be the guy to turn things around."

If Perlozzo sounds like he's campaigning to return in 2005, that wasn't what this was all about. He was talking about a city that has been too long away from the party, at least as far as the baseball team is concerned, and a fan following that deserves better.

"You're going to lose sometimes, and you're going to win sometimes," he said. "That's part of it. The great Baltimore fans - the vast majority of them - will hang in there with us. If they are true fans, they are living and dying with us. We've got great fans. This is a town full of people who are great Orioles and Ravens fans and they are just begging for us to get better.

"I'm a Maryland boy. I've been a Baltimore fan all my life ... I'm going to do my share to make it better. It won't be for lack of trying."

The Orioles now have to focus on the long term, because there is nothing left to salvage this season but a measure of self-respect. The Ravens have to focus on the here and now, and there is so much work to do that it's a pretty good thing that they have the early bye week.

"This bye didn't look like it was in a good spot starting out," Billick said during his televised post-game media conference, "but now it's a good thing that we have this much time, because we've got a lot of work ahead of us."

The only question is where to start after Jamal Lewis fumbled on his first touch and rolled up a grand total of 9 yards on 10 carries ... after Anthony Wright threw a game-breaking interception for a touchdown ... after the most stirring tackle of the game was delivered by kicker Matt Stover.

We're two weeks into the season and former Ravens (and current Comcast post-game commentators) Rob Burnett and Brad Jackson both brought up the troublesome issue of locker room chemistry that surfaced late last season. To be fair, however, it's pretty tough to whistle "We Are Family" when you're getting your rear ends kicked all over the Country Music Capital of the World.

Maybe it wasn't as bad as it looked, but if it was half as bad as it looked, Billick is going to be as busy doing damage control as he will be looking at film into the wee hours of the next 12 or 13 mornings.

Perlozzo obviously knows how he feels, because he's been doing damage control since the day he got the job.

peter.schmuck@baltsun.com

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