At 0-2, desperate Ravens looking for a little relief

Pro football

October 02, 2005|By JAMISON HENSLEY | JAMISON HENSLEY,SUN REPORTER

Ravens coach Brian Billick joked a few days ago about raising money for the New York Jets' relief fund in response to the media's portrayal of the injury-hampered team.

But the real team in crisis could be closer than he thinks.

If the Ravens (0-2) can't piece together their team against the Jets (1-2) today - from a scoring-challenged offense to a turnover-barren defense - a season that started with Super Bowl aspirations might be on the verge of falling apart.

Since the playoffs expanded to 12 teams in 1990, only three of 75 teams that lost their first three games have made the playoffs.

"We've got to come out with an attitude," Ravens tight end Todd Heap said. "When you're down like this, the only thing that can make it better is winning. We have to go out against the Jets with a mind-set that says, `We're coming to play.' "

The sellout crowd at M&T Bank Stadium will see two teams sharing more than desperation.

Their starting quarterbacks are both sidelined with injuries. Their top running backs, both of whom have won NFL rushing titles, have yet to crack 75 yards in a game, much less 100. And their defenses have failed to live up to expectations.

"Both teams are dying for a win right now," Ravens defensive end Tony Weaver said. "The team that doesn't get one, they're going to be struggling a little bit."

There is one major difference: The Ravens have prepared 14 days for the Jets, but the Jets have had less than a week to prepare former third-string quarterback Brooks Bollinger.

New York was forced to turn to Bollinger after starter Chad Pennington and backup Jay Fiedler went down with rotator cuff injuries last Sunday. A rarely used three-year veteran, Bollinger has played 19 snaps in his career.

"Teams kind of smell blood in the water," Jets guard Pete Kendall told New York reporters last the week.

So far this season, the Ravens' defense has just been treading water. Although the defense has allowed a respectable total of 33 points this season, it has been unable to deliver the traditional game-changing plays.

Last year, the Ravens made 21 interceptions, returning a league-high five back for touchdowns, and recorded 39 sacks. Two games into this season, they have managed one sack and no interceptions.

That drought could end against Bollinger. According to the Ravens, he has no idea what to expect from a defense that moves and attacks like theirs.

"You see [our defense] on tape and it looks like we're going really slow; it looks so clear to everybody," linebacker Ray Lewis said. "That thing's happening at 200 mph. He not going to have as much time as he thinks."

Regaining their old form has been the rallying cry for the Ravens' offense, too.

The Ravens are determined to rev up a running game that has plummeted to last place in the league. Running back Jamal Lewis has carried the ball 26 times out of 138 plays.

In facing a Jets defense that ranks 29th against the run, Billick knows the Ravens must have success on the ground to win.

"Gotta do it. Gotta do it," Billick said. "It's a tall order against a group that has five first-round draft choices in their front seven. It's not going to be easy, but we have to commit to it and we will."

An integral part of this game plan is fullback Alan Ricard, who aggravated a calf injury and is a game-time decision. The Ravens envisioned Ricard leading the way for Lewis like the previous two seasons, when the running game ranked among the league's best.

Many of the players feel the key to the Ravens' offense, which has produced two meaningless touchdowns this season, is returning to its run-heavy roots.

"We just need to do what we do best. Our line, they love to lean on guys and lean on defenses and just set that tempo," said Lewis, who has gained 57 yards rushing on a 2.2-yard per carry average.

"The last couple of games, it's more of a finesse, boring type of attitude. Now, it seems like we're getting back to what we did best the last four or five years."

Already trailing the Cincinnati Bengals by 2 1/2 games in the AFC North, the Ravens realize there's little room for error.

"The pressure's on us," Jamal Lewis said. "We're 0-2 and we have to climb out of this hole."

The Ravens have only themselves to blame for being in this hole. A lack of discipline has led to the Ravens averaging nine penalties and three turnovers in the first two games.

Billick said the Ravens had to concentrate on correcting their mistakes during the bye week and not the consequences of another loss.

"You're cognizant of what your record means, but if you focus on that you might as well not show up at the game," Billick said. "The NFL will expose fear and hesitation quicker than any venue that I've ever been around. If you're playing a game fearful of the negatives, you have no chance at all."

jamison.hensley@baltsun.com

Jets@Ravens Today, 4:05 p.m., Ch. 13,

1300 AM, 102.7 FM Line: Ravens by 7

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