It's time to be upfront: Team beats backups

November 21, 2005|By DAVID STEELE

So this is the Ravens' new "profile": Control the clock. Have the quarterback manage the game. Play defense. Force turnovers. Make plays on special teams (particularly 44-yard field goals in overtime).

And if at all possible, get the other team to use its third-string quarterback.

The Ravens have put just about all those pieces together twice this season - including that last piece - and have won both times. Talk about taking what a team gives you.

The Pittsburgh Steelers yesterday gave them Tommy Maddox, instead of Ben Roethlisberger or Charlie Batch, or, for that matter, Antwaan Randle-El or Hines Ward, two ex-quarterbacks who couldn't have done any worse behind center than their overmatched teammate.

Maddox did about as well as Brooks Bollinger did last month when the New York Jets dug that extra level down into their depth chart. The Ravens beat them both. Winning with a bona fide starter is hard enough; winning with the backup's backup is just about impossible.

To borrow one of Brian Billick's well-worn phrases (not as well-worn as "our profile," but close), Tommy Maddox is what he is. He'd already single-handedly cost the Steelers a game, against the Jacksonville Jaguars.

In a refreshing burst of honesty (he's only been starting for a month, so he might not know better yet), linebacker Bart Scott said of Maddox, "We knew there were things he does well, and we took advantage of the things he doesn't do well."

At this stage of his career, Maddox hands off to Willie Parker and Jerome Bettis well. Between the Ravens stacking the box from the first snap and Steelers coach Bill Cowher forcing a passing game into that scheme, the Ravens were in fairly good shape.

"We knew if we stopped those guys, we'd put the game in the hands of Tommy Maddox," Scott continued, "and we'd take our chances with that."

It still almost wasn't enough. Of course, in the previous two wins, against Bollinger's Jets and Trent Dilfer's Cleveland Browns, the margin was excruciatingly thin, too. One drive, one stop, one momentum shift, and those margins might have disappeared. Imagine how wretched this season would be then.

Imagine, also, how horrendous everyone would feel today if Maddox had somehow pulled this one out. He was good for one decent drive all day; it came in the fourth quarter, and it tied the game at 13. He and Kyle Boller were in the midst of a stink-off, and with five minutes to go in regulation, it was dead even.

Between the two, at game's end, there were 11 sacks, two interceptions, a fumble, two near-fumbles (one each, including the one by Boller a foot from the goal line that was overturned by Billick's challenge), 56.7 percent passing, bad decisions and bad throws by the bushel.

Give credit to the two defenses for making them look so terrible. Give special credit to Tony Weaver and his two overtime sacks, reminding all of what the Ravens were missing when he was out injured. But the two quarterbacks did a lot of it on their own.

The Ravens' defense, though, never doubted that it could keep Maddox and the Steelers down the rest of the way after the game-tying touchdown, even if it meant doing it in overtime. The defense got them there - with the help of a pass ricocheting off Ward's foot into the arms of a diving Terrell Suggs in Ravens territory with 1:07 to go. By any means necessary, right?

"I wasn't even supposed to be dropping [into coverage]. You guys keep that a secret," Suggs acknowledged with a chuckle. "I just happened to be at the right place at the right time."

At times, Boller looked worse than Maddox, and worse than he had in the debacle in Jacksonville last week. Still, he was in the same boat as Maddox: produce one good drive at the right time, and it should be enough.

Boller sure didn't produce it at the end of regulation, after Suggs' interception, the way the Ravens were lining up wrong, burning timeouts, taking sacks and spraying wild passes all around. But he did it in overtime. He only had to get Matt Stover into his broad field-goal range. He did, barely.

Very inspirational.

Now, if the aforementioned reference to the "profile" seems a little smart-alecky, consider this. In their past seven victories, spanning 18 games and dating to last November, the opposing quarterbacks were, in reverse, Maddox, Dilfer, Bollinger, Miami Dolphins third-stringer Sage Rosenfels, New York Giants rookie Eli Manning (in his fourth start), the Dallas Cowboys' Vinny Testaverde and Jets backup Quincy Carter.

And all but last season's Jets game were at home.

In other words, they'd better have won those games.

They won yesterday. It counts in the standings, and it was against their rivals, the first-place Steelers, in front of bunches of their fans all around the stadium.

But this is now a pattern, only beating teams with offenses as fractured as theirs, or more.

Good thing there are a few of them around.

david.steele@baltsun.com

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