Dangerous Waters

A loss to the Dolphins, trying to avoid a historic 0-16 record, would be the definitive low of a dreadful Ravens season

Ravens Weekend

December 14, 2007|By DON MARKUS

Back in training camp, when the Ravens were considered Super Bowl contenders and December seemed so far away, Sunday's game in Miami was never mentioned in the context of the team's coming season.

It was simply the week after what was thought to be a defining stretch against three of the NFL's dominant teams. Now, the afterthought has the potential to become the signature game of this disastrous season - even for a 4-9 team skidding through a franchise-worst seven-game losing streak.

As the Ravens approach their trip to Dolphin Stadium, the pressure to not lose to a winless team trying to avoid its own ignominious place in NFL history will certainly be different than it has been in hoping - and failing - to upset the San Diego Chargers, New England Patriots and Indianapolis Colts.

FOR THE RECORD - An article and an accompanying chart in some of yesterday's editions misstated the number of NFL teams that have won only one game in a season since the 1970 merger. The correct number is nine. The chart omitted the 1990 New England Patriots and 1996 New York Jets.
The Sun regrets the errors.

"If I was on the other sideline, I would say, `I don't want to be the team that loses to the team that hasn't won a game yet,' " Dolphins defensive end Jason Taylor said this week. "I think that in turn it puts the pressure on the opponent, not on us. So I wouldn't want to be in that situation."

The Ravens have tried their best to deflect Taylor's obvious attempt at mind games, but wide receiver Derrick Mason was blunt in assessing the situations both teams face as their seasons play out.

"The pressure is on both teams," Mason said. "You don't want to be the team that goes 0-16, and on the flip side of that, we don't want to be the team that loses to a team that hasn't won up until this point. I think he's playing it smart. He threw the pressure card on our side of the table."

The Ravens are not the first team to be in this precarious situation.

The 1976 Tampa Bay Buccaneers finished 0-14 their inaugural season, becoming the only team in the modern era to not win a game, but nine teams have won only one game since the 1970 merger. Four of them have gone into at least Week 11 looking for their first win.

Marty Lyons was a defensive lineman on the 1980 New York Jets team that had won three of its first 14 games, then lost to the winless New Orleans Saints in Week 15. These were the infamous 'Aints whose sorry season prompted some fans at the Superdome to wear paper bags over their heads.

Lyons said the Jets might have lost the game before the Saints even showed up at Shea Stadium.

"I remember the week prior to the game thinking we didn't have to do much at practice, this was pretty much going to be a cake walk," Lyons said. "Once we got into the game, a snowstorm came in and you could barely see across the line of scrimmage. Before you knew it, they walked away the better team that day."

Coach Brian Billick is trying to ensure that won't happen to the Ravens. Despite his team's mounting injuries and frustration, Billick is confident the Ravens can put aside their near victory over New England and Sunday's blowout defeat to Indianapolis to get ready for the Dolphins.

"I don't care whether you're playing the best team in the league or the opposite of that," Billick said Wednesday. "Where we are, we don't have the right to overlook anybody, and anytime you go on the road, it's a tough battle."

Renowned sports psychologist Bob Rotella believes all teams go into a game with that philosophy, but outside factors often come into play.

"What great teams and great coaches and great players attempt to do is treat them all the same. Once the media and everyone around them starts talking about `You've got to beat the Dolphins' or how terrible it would be to lose to the Dolphins, you hear it, and it can get in there [your psyche]," Rotella said.

Rotella, who has worked with several NFL teams and many of the top golfers in the world, said the easiest way to get those thoughts out of your mind is to dominate a weak team right from the start - even if your team is only marginally better.

"That's where you get into being proud of yourself, and this is a test and a challenge, and get excited about going out there and blowing them out," Rotella said yesterday. "A couple of weeks ago, the Jets were in the same situation against the Dolphins, and they expected to kick their butt, and they kicked their butt."

Lyons, who serves as an analyst on the Jets' radio broadcasts, said the Jets seemed to play more freely against the Dolphins than in previous games, running several gimmick plays early on, including a couple of direct snaps to running back Leon Washington and wide receiver Brad Smith.

"They kind of opened up their offensive game plan to make sure that there were things that nobody else had seen all year, and it was like, `Let's throw it out at the Dolphins,' " Lyons said.

Lyons said the Ravens' defense and running game could send a powerful message to the Dolphins early in the game.

"The one thing that Baltimore has going for them, they're a very physical team," Lyons said. "If they start the game fast and playing at a very physical tempo, like they did against New England, there's a tendency for people [on Miami] to pack it in."

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