As in Annapolis meeting, road for Ravens tough to negotiate

November 27, 2007|By PETER SCHMUCK

Even if you're the world's most cockeyed optimist, it's going to be a tough week around here.

I mean, the Ravens are a double-double-digit underdog for Monday night's game against the New England Patriots at M&T Bank Stadium, and the other notable event in the region is the multination Mideast conference that will be held today in Annapolis.

Wonder what kinds of odds I can get if I parlay a Ravens victory and lasting peace in the Middle East.

(It's times like these I like to quote the Rev. Jim Ignatowski of Taxi, who once was asked the odds of randomly running into an old high school friend in a city of 8 million people. His reply: "Uhhh ... got to be at least 3-to-1.")

I know, I know. This is no laughing matter. The Ravens have fallen so hard it's difficult to imagine them winning another game this year, except maybe the one against the Miami Dolphins, which - if there were any justice in the world - would be moved to the NFL Network so the other two-thirds of America's television viewers could feel better about their crappy cable lineup.

In the meantime, Brian Billick has got to figure out a way to keep the undefeated Patriots from setting up camp in the end zone and then leasing it to Peyton Manning and the hated Indianapolis Colts the next week.

To his credit, Billick welcomes the challenge of trying to knock off one of the most dominating teams in NFL history, even if he probably has a better chance of winning a Powerball jackpot than enjoying the dead-fish post-game handshake with Bill Belichick.

"We're [playing] Monday night against the best team, not even arguably, the best team in the league right now," Billick said during his news conference yesterday. "Everybody wants to be the team that knocks off New England. That's a worthy goal. That's worth having at.

"This team will take that on. They [the Patriots] are as advertised, and it will be a great opportunity for us in front of our fans to show that we're better than what we've shown."

Of course, it's also a great opportunity to get pounded like a bad steak, but you take your challenges where you can find them when you're 4-7 and riding the longest losing streak in Ravens history.

Billick definitely is right about one thing. The next two games are laden with enough intrigue to keep everyone - in the locker room and in the stands - interested at a point in the season when it otherwise would be time to start pawning off the season tickets on the in-laws.

Just save your optimism for the not-too-distant future, which could be much brighter because of the trials and tribulations the Ravens have endured thus far.

Now that the playoffs are out of the question, it's OK to start taking some consolation in the fact the Ravens likely will have a pretty good spot in next year's draft. Barring a late-season surge against several of the top teams in the league, they will have one of the first 10 picks, and general manager Ozzie Newsome's track record with top-10 draft choices says he'll choose a player who will have a big impact on the team's future.

The Ravens also would benefit next year from a third-place or fourth-place schedule.

Throw in the experience a lot of young players have gotten during this injury-marred season, and it's not hard to see the team bouncing back quickly from this difficult year.

"We have a lot of young players," Billick said. "We have what, 12 or 13 guys that are either rookie or first-year players. That's a lot, as much as anybody we play ... and they've gotten a substantial amount of playing time, so that is a good thing as you look at the long term.

"So yeah, there is a part of you that holds on to that as you look forward, but again I can't look too far forward, because we have a great challenge in front of us right now that, frankly, I don't want to miss."

I'll take his word for that and second that emotion. In the greater scheme of things, the Ravens might be better off losing out, but the chance to spoil Belichick's perfect season - however remote - is just too delicious to pass up.

peter.schmuck@baltsun.com

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

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