To avoid a deflating defeat, Ravens can't get too pumped For Ravens to have chance, curb dance

November 06, 2005|By RICK MAESE

I like listening to Brian Billick speak. He's very methodical and always seems to know just where he's going. I can picture him driving a winding racecourse with a blindfold and knowing exactly where and when to turn at all times.

It's because he uses talking points, little key words and phrases that usually takes something very specific and projects it into something conceptual and vague.

After that embarrassing, penalty-filled loss to the Detroit Lions last month - Yellow Sunday, I like to call it - Billick sent an e-mail to season-ticket holders. He used the word "passion" 11 times. It's one of those buzz words he likes to use. After the Lions loss, he was making some sense.

"The task now is to channel the passion and frustration that exhibited itself on Sunday, and bring it into a manageable focus and intensity," he wrote then.

It took a few weeks, but the Ravens finally did that last week against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

If you're looking for keys to today's game against the Cincinnati Bengals, keep an eye out for that passion.

Forget about Anthony Wright and Jamal Lewis. There's no reason to think the offense is all of a sudden going to start finding the end zone. (Did you see that SI.com named Lewis the league's most disappointing player of the season?) And you probably shouldn't expect the Ravens' secondary to start picking passes off Carson Palmer.

The biggest thing to watch today will take place before the kickoff, as the Ravens come out of the tunnel. Are they bouncing and barking? Do they look like they're trying out to dance background in a Black Eyed Peas video?

Your game could be determined right there.

Last week the Ravens played their best football of the year, losing, 20-19, in Pittsburgh on Monday night. Individually, they didn't look like a batch of All-Pros. But collectively you could tell that they were putting their energy into the game, not their chest thumping.

They need to have that same mentality today. And because Ray Lewis will miss his second straight game, there's reason to believe the Ravens will again play focused football.

Lewis is boundless and I don't mind him acting the way he does. The problem is that he sets the tone and the rest of the team takes its cue from him. It's detrimental for other players to think they can waste their energy celebrating first-down tackles.

Game after game and play after play, we see Ravens going out of their way to hop up and down and pat themselves on the back.

But that's always a bad way to channel your passion. When you're winning, it can actually be a right way. It's when you're losing that the passion starts looking for the nearest exit and easiest outlet.

That's when you get personal fouls and Yellow Sundays.

On Monday, the energy was channeled in the right direction. The Ravens were flagged just six times for 38 yards. They'd entered the game averaging 11 penalties and 80 penalty yards a game.

Billick knew all along how important it is that this team directs its energy toward wins. He just didn't seem to know how to do it.

The coach has gone out of his way to make sure the players are able to maintain their identities, that they feel comfortable expressing themselves. Billick compliments their passion at every turn, often with a "boys-will-be-boys" attitude.

That effectively gave Lewis free rein to set the tone. It wasn't until he was out of pads that we can fully see how dangerous that was.

Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti has maintained a low profile in these turbulent times. Before the Steelers game, though, he toured the organization, speaking with executives and players alike. By all accounts, his words were positive and reassuring.

Maybe something he said had some effect on the locker room. Even before the Ravens set foot on the field Monday, Billick knew something was different. He said he was actually concerned because the locker room had a "businesslike quality to it."

"I wasn't sure what that meant emotionally," he said. "But the way they came out and performed and stepped up to it, it was just the right intensity."

They need to duplicate it today.

It's probably asking too much of Wright to throw for 300 yards and a couple touchdowns. And we shouldn't expect Jamal Lewis to run the way he did just a couple years ago. The offensive line is still the offensive line and the defensive secondary shows signs of aging.

You work within your means. Control what you can control. The whole city wants to dance right now. Everyone's just waiting for something worth celebrating.

rick.maese@baltsun.com

Points after -- Rick Maese

Slow news day: What kind of climate are we in when a coach merely mentions race and it's instantly a headline? Joe Paterno referenced black football players on the Big Ten conference call last week. "The black athlete has made a big difference," he said. "They have changed the whole tempo of the game. Black athletes have just done a great job as athletes and as people in turning the game around."

It was empty and dumb. ESPN.com made it one of its top headlines Friday - not because it was newsworthy, but because some in the media are trigger-happy when it comes to race. Sadly, it's only making it more difficult to have real discussions about race and sports.

Are clip-ons allowed?: The NBA dress code has been treated by many as a hot-button topic second only to baseball's steroid controversy. My guess is many are trying to deflect attention from their own attire. The last thing sportswriters want is a dress code of their own.

Scaring the kids: A lot of people have asked what I dressed as for Halloween. I thought I was being clever putting powder in my hair, walking the neighborhood with a cane and wearing one of Peter Schmuck's press badges from the 1950s. Unfortunately, not a single soul would open the door for me. Is this what life is like every day for Schmuck?

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