Familiar faces not smiling at former team

October 02, 2007|By PETER SCHMUCK

The Ravens were beaten on Sunday by the young quarterback who got away and now are looking at a coast-to-coast road game against the one who was kicked out the door after they won the Super Bowl.

Which leads to an interesting question: Is this sputtering team haunted more by its past or its present?

Former Ravens draft choice Derek Anderson led the Cleveland Browns to a pair of quick touchdowns and did just enough to pull a divisional upset that forced the defending AFC North champions into another week of self-reflection. Throw in a solid afternoon by running back Jamal Lewis, and the Ravens got a double dose of negative nostalgia.

So much for the seemingly soft first half of the season. The Ravens have stumbled twice already, both times tripped up by supposedly inferior franchises with close ties to the team that won it all in 2001.

Next up: The San Francisco 49ers host the Ravens at Monster Park after starting quarterback Alex Smith went down Sunday with a mild shoulder separation. His backup is Ravens Super Bowl hero Trent "I'm going to Disney World instead of Ray" Dilfer.

That's just great. There is so much bad karma floating around the Ravens' facility this week, Brian Billick might want to convert to Buddhism, or at least one of the AFC Eastern philosophies.

I shouldn't complain. If nothing else, a Dilfer subplot will allow us to stop obsessing about Steve McNair's sore groin, which - at least for me - was becoming a little weird.

Dilfer would love to add to the Ravens' early-season misery. He still bears a grudge against Billick for the organization's decision to replace him with Elvis Grbac after the uplifting Super Bowl season.

Billick addressed the situation again at his news conference yesterday with a conciliatory overture to his former quarterback, but he and his players have to be growing weary of all the former-Ravens story lines.

"There's so much of it nowadays," Billick said. "It's very rare that you don't play somebody that doesn't have somebody that was on your team before. ... It's like competing against your brother. You always want to beat your brother. Pickup basketball, darts, whatever you're doing. But probably too much is made of it."

In this case, it's something of an old story. Dilfer has faced the Ravens twice since he left Baltimore, once as a backup for the Seattle Seahawks and once as a starter with the Browns. The Ravens won both games.

Billick will have plenty of more important things on his mind this weekend, but he conceded that the trip to San Francisco will be a sentimental journey. He got his start on the road to Super Bowl glory under Bill Walsh in the 49ers' organization and never fails to give credit to the late coaching guru for his success.

"It's well documented the impact he had on me and everything I do, everything this league does, quite frankly," Billick said. "I was going on the other day - it's been 10 years since I've been back there. In 1997, I went out there when I was with the Vikings. That's the last time I was in Candlestick. And that's how old I am, it was Candlestick when I was there. It will always be Candlestick to me. So it's been a while. For me, it'll be kind of neat to go back, but it's been a long time."

Actually, it won't be very pleasant unless the Ravens take advantage of opportunities in the red zone, get their secondary straightened out and come home with a winning record. They were supposed to make hay during the first two months of the season, because the competition stiffens considerably after the bye week.

Their chances of returning to the playoffs could be seriously jeopardized if they leave Monster Park without their third victory.

To get it, they'll have to get past another cranky ex-teammate, but what else is new?

peter.schmuck@baltsun.com

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

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