Ravens should well know not to be buffaloed by Bills

October 16, 2007|By PETER SCHMUCK

If the Ravens needed to guard against the possibility of taking the banged-up St. Louis Rams lightly last week, the coaching staff should have no trouble convincing them that the Buffalo Bills will be a much more formidable opponent.

Just fire up the DVR or set the way-back machine to last week's Monday Night Football game at Ralph Wilson Stadium.

"Anybody who saw them against Dallas at home," Brian Billick said, "knows that team is as capable a team as any, because Dallas looks to be pretty good."

It was quite a game, all right. The Bills came within a couple of seconds of knocking the Cowboys from the ranks of the undefeated, which proved a couple of things:

There really is parity in the NFL, and it's fairly presumptuous to assume the Ravens are clearly the better team, particularly when you factor in everything they have to deal with going into their final game before the bye week.

This team, to some extent, remains a victim of its preseason expectations as well as its supposedly backloaded schedule. Ravens fans - with some help from us in the local media - viewed this season from the start as a two-part miniseries that begins with seven soft games before the bye and hinges on a series of climactic matchups against the top playoff contenders in November and December.

There's no doubt the second half of the schedule is tougher than the first, but it somehow created the collective mind-set that all of the Ravens' early opponents must be pushovers.

The Rams certainly fit that description, and it would be easy to look at the Bills' 1-4 record and put them in the same category. It would also be foolhardy.

Buffalo is not a great team by any means, but the Bills have been extremely competitive on their home field this year. They are 1-2 at home, but the two losses were by one point each, and it took an amazing comeback for the Cowboys to score that 25-24 victory last week.

The Ravens, meanwhile, are still working with a patchwork offensive line and several other key injuries that will keep them at significantly reduced strength at least through the bye.

That's why Billick had to choose his words carefully as he explained why Kyle Boller will start Sunday and tight end Todd Heap probably won't. He did not want to give the impression he was willing to rest his banged-up starters based on the relative quality of the other team.

Considering that the Ravens badly need to go into the bye week with a 5-2 record to protect their playoff possibilities, he didn't have to tap dance too much to get the opposite point across.

"It's a huge challenge ... a huge game," Billick said. "Again, I hope no one misunderstands here: We're not making choices by saying, `We think we can beat this team without those guys.' We're not doing that at all.

"Our whole focus is Buffalo, and you have to do everything you can, but you have to do what's best for the players. ... With what we've been through, we'll feel very good to be at 5-2 if we get there."

Billick isn't worried about his players' understanding the importance of meeting that challenge, but he cautioned the team yesterday not to let plans for the week off get in the way of total preparation for Sunday's game.

"I impressed upon them today, gave them their complete schedule and made the point, `Guys, whatever you're going to do, make those arrangements today and tomorrow. Get them behind you so that, when we get into our normal preparation, you're not distracted out of your normal routine to make whatever arrangements you're going to make," Billick said. "We need the bye desperately, physically and emotionally, to rest. I want them to, whatever they're going to do, go do it and get away from here, but not yet."

There's one more obstacle to climb over, and it might be bigger than it looks.

peter.schmuck@baltsun.com

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

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