Victory over cupcake Rams not that sweet

Ravens 22 Rams 3

Ravens Gameday

October 15, 2007|By PETER SCHMUCK

During the lead-up to yesterday's one-sided victory over the St. Louis Rams, Ravens coach Brian Billick tried hard to impress on everyone just how dangerous a winless team can be.

"They're a desperate team right now," he said last Monday.

Apparently, that depended on your definition of desperate. Billick was trying to convey the kind of desperation that caused Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid to come out shooting against the entire Bolivian army. Turns out the Rams were the kind of desperate that makes it hard to get a date for the Star Wars convention.

"By the fourth quarter," linebacker Bart Scott said, "I think they were ready to get on their bus."

By the end of the fourth quarter, they probably thought they had been run over by one.

Surely, it was nice to see the Ravens with some of their swagger back, but it might be a good idea to keep yesterday's 22-3 win in its proper context. The Rams figured to be the softest spot in the soft underbelly of the Ravens' back-loaded schedule, and they didn't disappoint.

The Ravens were favored by 9 1/2 points the week after they scored just nine against the unimposing San Francisco 49ers, which makes me wonder whether the oddsmakers were leaving open the possibility that the Rams would score negative points.

They didn't miss by much. They turned the ball over six times and put the Ravens in short-field positions all afternoon, which allowed Matt Stover to tie a personal best with five field goals and fill-in quarterback Kyle Boller to get his feet back on the ground in a relatively low-pressure situation.

It was all good for the Ravens, but who can be sure what it all means? How do you evaluate a supposed playoff contender that won handily but managed only one touchdown against the weakest, most beaten-down team in the NFL? Seems like a fair question, but wide receiver Derrick Mason wasn't too thrilled to have someone ask it while his teammates were just starting to strut around the locker room again.

"In this league, a win is a win," he said. "Every team comes out, whether they're hurt or whatever, and tries to beat you. I don't care whether they have 12 or 14 guys down. If their coaches didn't think they could play, they wouldn't have suited up."

Maybe so, but it wasn't as if the Rams' coaching staff was rolling in available talent. Starting quarterback Marc Bulger was out. So were Pro Bowl running back Steven Jackson and wide receivers Isaac Bruce and Dante Hall.

"This has been a really screwed-up season," fill-in quarterback Gus Frerotte said. "It's hard to believe that we're 0-6. ... What's happened to us makes us sick."

The Ravens still have issues, but at least they're beginning to get well. Billick all but committed yesterday to playing Boller against the Buffalo Bills and resting Steve McNair through the bye week. The Ravens could get Trevor Pryce and Jonathan Ogden back by the time the schedule turns nasty.

"With Steve, specifically, if we can come out of the bye with him fully healthy, we have a chance to be pretty good," Billick said.

The defense looked particularly ferocious yesterday, knocking Frerotte all over M&T Bank Stadium and holding the Rams to 67 rushing yards. The five interceptions set a Ravens single-game record.

Scott was quick to acknowledge that St. Louis is at the other end of the competitive spectrum compared to the teams the Ravens will have to beat during the second half of the season, but he applauded his teammates for approaching the Rams as if they were a major obstacle on the road to the playoffs.

"That's a sign that we are a mature team," he said. "Immature athletes have a tendency to play down to the competition, but you have to bring your lunch pail every day. You never want to give the other team the opportunity to think they have life and let them hang around until they start believing they have a chance to win."

The Ravens almost did that last week, when the 49ers missed a fourth-quarter field-goal attempt that could have dealt a serious blow to this team's playoff aspirations. The Rams never were a threat, but that might say more about their descent into NFL oblivion than the Ravens' early-season progress.

Billick called it a "great win," and that might be exactly what it was, but the rest of us will just have to wait and see.

peter.schmuck@baltsun.com

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

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