Purple poise prevails, for 1 game at least

Ravens Gameday

Ravens 16, Browns 3

October 17, 2005

Samari Rolle called what the Ravens were facing going into yesterday's game "pressure." He wasn't wrong.

That was an ugly game at M&T Bank Stadium yesterday, between two ugly teams. But it was a win, and the Ravens will never downplay this one. The alternative would have been infinitely uglier.

A loss was not an option, especially not after last week, the game America was still talking about yesterday and surely is still talking about today, as it sees "Baltimore" in the NFL roundup.

The Ravens had to do more than beat Cleveland at home and avoid 1-4. They had to change the topic. They had to define themselves as something other than a team out of control.

They may have spent much of the time in the locker room rehashing the disgrace in Detroit - but better to do that than to be discussing another loss, and the real possibility that the season was lost for good.

The Detroit game was only brought up for comparison's sake. Thus, the observation by Rolle: "There was a lot of pressure on us to come out and perform the way we could, and act civilized on the field."

One couldn't be separated from the other. Staying composed and beating the Browns were not mutually exclusive goals; they had to stay composed in order to beat the Browns. If it wasn't quite clear before, it was clear after last week: No matter whom they play, the Ravens' margin for error is paper-thin. Poise has to be a constant, not a variable.

In the face of the penalties and turnovers and bad breaks, the Ravens might still have beaten a weak, Joey Harrington-led team had they kept their heads. They kept their heads this week, and they beat ... well, a weak, incompetent, unsure Browns team that left onlookers wondering how on Earth they came in at 2-2 and ahead of the Ravens in the AFC North standings.

But the Ravens got out of the cellar, are no longer stuck on one win, and now have a win with more cachet than the one over the quarterback-less New York Jets.

Plus, nobody got thrown out. That may be setting the bar low, but at least they managed that. Even as the defensive players waved their arms and pumped their fists, they kept it fairly controlled. That might be why they made more big plays. You sure can't rule it out.

Afterward, besides milking their us-against-them angle to the limit, the Ravens talked about getting something positive out of one of the franchise's worst weeks since the team moved from Cleveland. "I think all things aside," said Derrick Mason, "we learned from last week. Good teams learn from the mistakes they make, and that's what we did."

The number of penalties, much less the type, was practically irrelevant (for the record, though, the Ravens cut the flags nearly in half, to a still-disturbingly-high 11). Granted, the flow of the game guaranteed that they'd have no reason to blow their tops: The Browns handed them an early lead by botching the very first snap to quarterback Trent Dilfer.

But they don't have to apologize for any of it, and any week you don't have to apologize is a good week.

Of course, true to their nature, they couldn't just take the field and play ball. The three captains for the game, at midfield for the coin toss, were Mason, Ed Reed and Terrell Suggs - representing three personal fouls, two ejections (B.J. Ward took the hit Reed deserved) and $35,000 in fines from last week's antics.

Believe it or not, this wasn't a random trio chosen by Brian Billick, although in deciding not to take questions after the game, he offered no explanation, leaving it to others to speak for him.

"[He wanted to] pick some guys who show and exemplify leadership," Mason said. "Even though there are a lot of leaders in this room, by using Ed and Terrell, he really wanted to pinpoint these guys as our leaders, and we're going to go as they go."

All three raised their games, most of all Suggs, the most infamous offender last week, the man with "malice in his heart." Suggs wreaked the most havoc on the Browns' offense, and took seriously something drilled into him all week: that he is as indispensable as anyone on this team.

"You all know about me, Ed and Derrick Mason," Suggs said afterward. "We are all good guys. I think that's definitely what we were trying to show today by our play."

That's what everyone had been talking about: show it on the field with your play against the other team, not after the whistle against all the other perceived enemies.

Do it a few more times, and everything about the game in Detroit will be an aberration: a humiliating loss to a subpar team and a reputation as the worst of the NFL's "bad boys."

The alternative is out of the question.

david.steele@baltsun.com

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