First win might not have come against second-string QB

October 03, 2005|By DAVID STEELE

The Ravens showed their vanquished opponents all the respect they deserved. Brian Billick empathized with his counterpart, Herman Edwards, and the "very tough set of circumstances" he'd played under. The players gave props to the quarterback who grew a little bit into the position as the game wore on.

In victory, their first of the season, the Ravens were gracious. But they better have been. The New York Jets and Brooks Bollinger came to town just when the Ravens needed them to.

That probably will be misconstrued as a slap at the defense, and it isn't meant to be. (Of course, fellas, feel free to take it that way. Mike Preston got a piece of the credit from you for yesterday's 13-3 win, and I want a taste, too.) The defense did precisely what it was supposed to do, and the Ravens won because of it.

The offense, meanwhile, outperformed an offense led by a quarterback who was third-string last week, who might be third-string again next week, and who played the first half like he was third-string. Against a second-stringer, the Ravens might have found their "new" season (in which they're now 1-0, they're telling us) looking an awful lot like their old season (0-2).

Doesn't matter now, though. This was a real, live, legit NFL game, and Edwards found himself without a quarterback in uniform he could count on. Too bad.

That's why the Ravens could afford to be magnanimous about the win, forgiving of the fans who booed at halftime when they left the field leading 6-0, and absentminded about the fans who had streamed for the exits by the time Anthony Wright was taking a knee.

"I think that's the business," Ray Lewis said of the booing. "The business likes high-scoring games; the business likes flash. We're about winning games."

Winning games around here means playing flash-free football, and that's what the Ravens did.

The offense on display yesterday is the one that's been here for a while, and the one that apparently will be here for a while longer. The most stunning development from yesterday is that Billick never used the word "profile" in summarizing the game. If it ever fit a game, it fit yesterday's.

For your own sanity, try not to think about what this franchise would be facing this morning if a few plays had turned out just a little differently. For example, the first play of the game, when John Abraham was flagged for lining up offside just before he forced, recovered and returned a fumble for a touchdown. The Todd Heap touchdown-saving tackle on Victor Hobson's third-quarter return of Jamal Lewis' fumble. And any one play of the ensuing goal-line stand.

The presence of Chad Pennington or Jay Fiedler -- or even a warmed-up Vinny Testaverde, who paced the Jets sideline yesterday -- could have and would have made that series tougher for the Ravens to defend. As great as he is, Curtis Martin can only be so tough when everybody on the planet knows he's just about the only chance the Jets have to score.

Actually, Terrell Suggs was not exaggerating when he praised Bollinger: "That young man over there stayed composed; he didn't get rattled at all. It never looked like he was bothered by our fronts." The look of the fronts wasn't the problem, though, it was the execution.

Yet Bollinger had them moving late. He needed breaks. He needed his receivers to hold onto those three drops. He needed Laveranues Coles to not push Chris McAlister from behind on an overthrown pass in the end zone and kill the last decent drive they had. He needed his defense to get into the end zone, not leave him even one yard to go.

The Ravens, meanwhile, needed only one sustained offensive drive, and they had the good fortune to get it immediately after the goal-line stand, essentially an 11-point swing (when the Jets got a field goal instead of a touchdown) in a game that was decided by 10. "That combination," Billick said, "is something you have to build on."

The offense needs building on, for certain. Running the ball 42 times (not including the kneel-downs) assures victory more times than not, but less than 3 yards a crack is nothing to brag about. Wright turned the ball over only once, but it was a silly turnover, the fourth-quarter flea-flicker intended to be the nail in the coffin.

The Ravens survived that, and they made their own breaks. But no break was bigger than the one they got last week, as they sat at home and the Jets quarterbacks started going down.

Great defense can take you far, as the Ravens have proved. Yesterday, they were helped just as much by good timing.

david.steele@baltsun.com

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