Ravens show some fight

maybe season won't be a total knockout

Ravens Gameday

Pro Football

November 01, 2005|By RICK MAESE

PITTSBURGH — Pittsburgh-- --You thought it was completely gone. You were counting the days until the NFL draft, spending your Saturdays scouting college football games on television and filling out the Ravens' roster for next season.

Did it feel a bit different when you woke up this morning? Did the coffee taste a little better?

If you're the type who can find optimism in a loss, it should've hit you shortly after midnight. The Ravens had a shot to win a game that everyone agreed they had no shot of winning.

Suddenly there's a glimmer of hope, coming in the form of last night's 20-19 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers.

It's so easy to forget in the dark times, but hope has no expiration date. Sure, it might lie dormant for a bit, but then when you least expect it - for example, against one of the AFC's top teams on Monday Night Football - there it is again, popping up and teasing you like an old college flame.

A loss is never easy to swallow, but playing the Steelers as close as they did on the road should leave a pleasing aftertaste. If there was any game in which the Ravens should have been blown out, it was last night's.

Unfortunately the team's remaining hope has little to do with the standings. The Ravens have a chance of improving this season. Losing to the Steelers, though, did serious damage to any playoff hopes.

At a glance, the landscape looks ripe for pillaging. The AFC's four second-place teams are unimpressive and completely vulnerable. Miami is 3-4 in the AFC East. The Steelers are now 5-2, three games ahead of the Ravens in the North. In the South, Jacksonville is 4-3 and has a 2 1/2 -game lead over third-place Tennessee. And in the West, Kansas City is 4-3.

Traditionally, though, a playoff team needs at least 10 wins. The Ravens have two and nine games remaining. That includes home games against Cincinnati and Pittsburgh and four contests on the road, where Baltimore hasn't posted a win since last November.

Still, last night's performance should at least alleviate the doom and gloom that has been hanging over this team like a sharpened scythe. The Ravens were sized for a coffin several weeks ago, which makes it impressive that they played the Steelers as close as they did.

After all, they couldn't win with Ed Reed, Ray Lewis, Kyle Boller and Alan Ricard - how were they going to even put up a fight with all four of them nursing injuries?

Anthony Wright, Jamal Lewis and Co. had spent the better part of the season proving the offense to be inept. The Ravens entered the game last in the league in scoring, and they've still managed only one touchdown on the ground all season.

But somehow there they were in the fourth quarter, charging down the field with a shot at winning. The Steelers botched a punt and the Ravens took over on the Pittsburgh 45-yard line. The Ravens were trailing only 17-16 at the time. Before you knew it, Wright hit Derrick Mason over the middle for a 15-yard gain. Fewer than five minutes remained.

Just a minute later, Matt Stover was back on the field, kicking a 47-yarder to give the Ravens their first lead of the game, 19-17. It was his third field goal of the quarter and his fourth of the night.

Fewer than 30 seconds passed before the Steelers showed why they'll likely be a Super Bowl contender in two months. They reached Ravens territory in three plays. Jerome Bettis charged into the two-minute warning with an 11-yard gain, putting Pittsburgh easily in field-goal range. A couple of plays later, Jeff Reed hit a 37-yard field goal to take back the lead.

As the Ravens crawl closer to the season's midway point, it's not a stretch to say the worst could be behind them. Coming soon to a stadium near you: Kyle Boller, whose presence - if not his arm - is a promise of at least something different in the pocket.

Wright has been a sturdy backup, but he gets too jumpy, overthrows too many receivers and is nearly worthless once he leads the offense into enemy territory. Wright is not a top-shelf quarterback, something he reminded everyone of in the waning moments of last night's game.

After Reed's field goal, the Ravens had the ball again, one last hope with 90 seconds on the clock.

Third-and-three. Ravens driving, seconds ticking and Wright scrambling. He was tied up and brought down, a 3-yard loss. On fourth down, his pass fell to the grass incomplete. The chance at the upset rolled slowly to a stop.

On the night, Wright took the Ravens into Steelers territory seven times, managing just one touchdown.

Boller should be back in the next couple of weeks. He couldn't return soon enough. Now they prepare for the toughest four-game stretch of the season.

Boller probably won't have a chance to lead the team to the playoffs, but last night we learned that there is some fight in these Ravens.

A respectable finish isn't out of the question. There's still hope for at least that much.

rick.maese@baltsun.com

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