Ravens are no patsies - but no Pats, either

September 18, 2007|By PETER SCHMUCK

It was a fairly revealing six hours of football. The Ravens, warts and all, slipped past the New York Jets at M&T Bank Stadium late Sunday afternoon and the New England Patriots destroyed the San Diego Chargers on national television soon thereafter.

So, where exactly does that leave us after the first two weeks of the NFL schedule?

The answer, of course, is Week 3. It's way too early for sweeping conclusions, but it still crossed my mind that the Ravens might be drawing dead in the AFC.

Pardon the poker cliche, and let me explain. When you're drawing dead in a money game, it means that you're staying around for a card to fill a hand that probably won't win, anyway. You're hoping to make a straight when the guy across the table is showing flush or full house.

The Ravens showed a great deal of improvement from last week's fumblefest in Cincinnati to Sunday's suspenseful 20-13 win over the Jets. It's just that the TV nightcap illustrated how far they still have to go to count themselves as true Super Bowl contenders.

Remember how the season began ... with the experts designating the Patriots, Chargers, Indianapolis Colts and, just maybe, the Ravens as the cream of the AFC in a league in which the AFC clearly is the dominant conference. Now, you have to wonder whether anybody is in the same class as Bill "Big Brother" Belichick and Team Camcorder.

The Chargers were a slight underdog on the road, but you kind of figured they'd put up a fight. The Patriots spent the week splitting their attention between game planning and Videogate, yet dominated the Chargers so completely that coach Norv Turner must have thought he was still with the Washington Redskins.

I'm not the only one who was impressed. Ravens coach Brian Billick went home after that uplifting performance by Kyle Boller and flipped on the Sunday night game. If he didn't develop a huge man-crush on Tom Brady, he at least had to be grateful the Ravens have a half-season to prepare for their Dec. 2 visit from the Patriots.

"Obviously, the Patriots look very good, and we'll have an opportunity to see them up close and personal in, whatever it is, a month and a half," Billick said yesterday. "But right now, we're going to play the Arizona Cardinals. As trite as that sounds, or as cliche as that sounds, there is no upside in focusing on anything but the Arizona Cardinals, and this team will do that."

True enough. The Ravens are focused on continuing to make the kind of strides that were evident in the first three quarters of Sunday's victory.

The same team that turned the ball over six times at Paul Brown Stadium six days earlier didn't give it up once against the Jets. Boller stepped in for injured Steve McNair and ran the offense so efficiently that - you guessed it - the talk shows have been buzzing with callers who knew all along that he was eventually going to be a great quarterback.

Boller did play very well. He also gave a good account of himself in the two games he was pressed into service last season. He has grown into a solid backup, and it no longer seems like a stretch to think he might develop into something more than that.

There were positives all over the place. The offensive line, even without injured Jonathan Ogden, kept the heat off Boller. New running back Willis McGahee caught his first career touchdown pass and ground out some tough yards in key short-yardage situations.

It's OK to be cautiously optimistic, because the Ravens are moving in the right direction again after that disheartening opener in Cincinnati.

How good are they? That's impossible to say with several key players already down with injuries. Defensive end Trevor Pryce joined that group Sunday when he broke his wrist and underwent surgery that will keep him out three to five weeks.

We do know one thing, however. They might be in the same conference as the Patriots, but they aren't in the same league.

At least not yet.

peter.schmuck@baltsun.com.

Listen to Peter Schmuck on WBAL (1090 AM) at noon on Saturdays and Sundays.

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