Ravens Holding Out Hope

Encouraged by passion against Steelers, Billick looks to go on a run

Ravens

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

A day after their most inspiring effort of the year, the Ravens faced the grim consequences of their 20-19 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers.

A victory over their division rival would have put them within one game of a wild-card spot.

But the gut-wrenching loss - which came on a 37-yard field goal with 1:36 left in the game - has pushed them to the brink of playoff extinction.

By coach Brian Billick's estimation, the Ravens (2-5) have virtually no shot at capturing the AFC North and now have to win eight of their last nine games to avoid a second consecutive underachieving season.

"We would have to get on a heck of a run," Billick said. "We're cognizant of that. Until someone tells us that mathematically [it] isn't going to happen, that's the hook you have to hold onto. That's where you generate your enthusiasm. Why give up on that hope?

"The way these guys played [Monday] night tells me that they're holding onto that. It was painful [Monday] night, but there was a sense of accomplishment to the degree they stepped up to the challenge."

Their next challenge is heightened by an imposing November stretch.

The Ravens' next four games are against winning teams: the Cincinnati Bengals (6-2) twice, at the Jacksonville Jaguars (4-3) and home against the Steelers (5-2). The Ravens haven't beaten a team with a winning record since the New York Jets last November, losing their past four meetings with teams above .500.

But Billick saw a glimmer of hope in the Ravens on Monday night, from the way the defense rallied together without linebacker Ray Lewis and safety Ed Reed to how the offense scored more points than it did all season.

"We matched our passion and intensity with a certain level of execution that maybe we haven't put together compared to the other games we lost," Billick said. "Hopefully, we can hold onto [the emotion] and not be worn out from the week before, nor wear ourselves out this week, because we're going to have to have the same level of passion and intensity for Cincinnati."

The Ravens could return three injured starters - defensive end Tony Weaver (toe), receiver Mark Clayton (ankle) and fullback Ovie Mughelli (ankle) - for Sunday's game against the division-leading Bengals.

But that news was offset by the setbacks of Reed (ankle) and quarterback Kyle Boller (toe).

The Ravens had hoped Boller would be healthy enough to reclaim his starting job from Anthony Wright by this time, but he felt soreness after returning to practice last week.

Billick said Boller is "unlikely" to play against the Bengals and didn't sound upbeat about his chances of coming back next week.

"I'm now in some gray area here as to how he feels," Billick said. "The time frame that we're hoping for just isn't happening right now."

The Ravens had seemed equally optimistic last week about Reed returning against Cincinnati. Now, it appears as if the Ravens will be without Reed and Lewis for a second straight game.

"Ed Reed probably has a bit further to go," Billick said.

The same could be said for the Ravens' offense, which produced 19 points but failed to finish off drives.

The Ravens marched past the Steelers' 30-yard line six times and came away with one touchdown. In the second half, they couldn't get any closer than the Pittsburgh 22.

The season-long problem for the Ravens has led to seven touchdowns, the fewest in the NFL.

"We're doing all the things that we can: taking the shots down the field, having a guy catch the ball and run with it and handing the ball off," Billick said. "Those are the three ways you can move the ball down there. We've got to orchestrate what we're doing down there better, and guys have to make plays."

The Ravens want to run the ball more effectively when they get close to the red zone, which would ease some of the pressure off of Wright.

There are times when Wright can step up and hit a receiver on target deep downfield. And there are the other moments when he misses open receivers for touchdowns, overthrowing Todd Heap and failing to see Derrick Mason.

After the Ravens' touchdown on their first drive, Wright was 1-for-8 for 22 yards when they moved inside the Pittsburgh 30. As a result, the Ravens have just one touchdown in their past 31 drives.

"It's like this team, [Wright] did some very good things in there," Billick said. "He's continuing to improve in terms of taking ownership of the offense in that regard. His completion percentage is good, and he saw the plays down the field much better than the week before. That's a positive game."

jamison.hensley@baltsun.com

Bengals@Ravens Sunday, 1 p.m., Ch. 13, 1300 AM, 102.7 FM Line: Bengals by 3

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