Ravens vow to `go out fighting'

In finale, ending skid is the players' priority, not higher draft pick

December 30, 2007|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,Sun Reporter

The Ravens' reward for a miserable season comes at the NFL draft in April.

But their players want satisfaction now.

Losing nine straight games - a painful stretch of 76 days without a win - has pushed them to the limits of desperation in today's finale against the AFC North champion Pittsburgh Steelers (10-5).

"You want to get a victory any way you can," wide receiver Derrick Mason said. "I might even go up to the scoreboard and change it."

Mason was laughing, but the Ravens are dealing with serious business come 4:15 p.m. at M&T Bank Stadium.

A victory would be more like a loss for the Ravens (4-11), considering the draft implications.

If the Ravens win, they could fall as far as No. 8 in the draft order. If they lose, there is a chance - albeit slim - that they could pick as high as No. 2.

The Ravens, who are currently in the seventh slot, would need help from all around the NFL to leapfrog to the spot behind the Miami Dolphins, who have clinched the top spot in the draft.

First, all three teams with 3-12 records - the St. Louis Rams, New York Jets and Atlanta Falcons - would have to win today. The Jets are favored to win, the Falcons are a pick 'em and the Rams are six-point underdogs.

Then, the combined winning percentage of the Ravens' opponents this season would have to rank last among the four-win teams. (If teams finish with the same record, the team with the worst strength of schedule gets the better pick.)

But the Ravens, who are three-point underdogs, aren't about to lay down to improve their draft status. In fact, the Ravens have gotten defensive when anyone has hinted that the players have quit during Brian Billick's worst season as coach.

"You'll have to show me the frame of film before you think anybody on this team has not played hard and given it their all [and] showed their passion for the game," Billick said. "I can promise you their professionalism in the meeting rooms and on the practice field has been outstanding. So, they've not let that emotional strain affect them in the way they do their job. But I'm sure it exists."

Even if the seven teams with the NFL's worst records all lose, the Ravens have a shot to move a couple of spots higher to fifth or sixth.

The Ravens currently have the least-favorable strength of schedule of the three four-win teams (the Oakland Raiders and Kansas City Chiefs are the others), but that could change today because their opponents' records are extremely close.

When projecting the NFL draft, the top five prospects generally include: Louisiana State defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey, Michigan offensive tackle Jake Long, Arkansas running back Darren McFadden, Virginia defensive end Chris Long and Boston College quarterback Matt Ryan.

The next tier appears to consist of Ohio State linebacker James Laurinaitis, Southern California defensive tackle Sedrick Ellis, Penn State linebacker Dan Connor, Boise State offensive tackle Ryan Clady and South Florida cornerback Mike Jenkins.

But the Ravens aren't thinking about adding a top prospect just yet. After losing every game since Oct. 14, they just want a win, which would allow them to avoid matching the worst record in the Ravens' 12-year existence.

"It's been so hard and been such a bad year. We can't catch a break," linebacker Jarret Johnson said. "It's one of those things where you want to go out fighting. You just want to have one good moment before it ends."

Although the Ravens are expected to bring back most of the team, they could have a different look after this game.

There will be changes on the Ravens' coaching staff this offseason, especially on the offensive side. It's a possibility that Billick might hand over the play-calling to a new offensive coordinator next season.

And today might be the farewell game for longtime offensive linemen Jonathan Ogden and Mike Flynn.

An eight-year starter, Flynn could retire or be pushed out by second-round pick Chris Chester.

Ogden, a perennial Pro Bowl player who is considered a lock for the Hall of Fame, has said he will contemplate retirement. He will be honored during pre-game ceremonies when he will walk out of the tunnel today with the Ravens' other two Pro Bowl selections, linebacker Ray Lewis and safety Ed Reed.

"It will be great," Ogden said. "Eleven times going to Hawaii, playing on this one team. Going out against the Steelers. No matter what, I'll remember this one."

Notes -- The Ravens placed tight end Todd Heap (hamstring) and backup safety Gerome Sapp (thigh) on injured reserve. They promoted tight end Jake Nordin and defensive tackle J'Vonne Parker from the practice squad. ... Because of an emergency road closure of Greene Street from Lombard to Pratt streets, the Ravens are advising motorists to avoid the vicinity today and travel alternate routes to the stadium, including I-395 to I-95 or Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard to Russell Street.jamison.hensley@baltsun.com

Draft weak links

The Ravens are in the No. 7 spot in the 2008 NFL draft, but that could change after today's games. If teams finish with the same record, the one with the worst strength of schedule gets the better pick.

No. Team W-L Strength of schedule Today's opponent

1. Miami 1-14 128-112 (.533) Cincinnati

2. St. Louis 3-12 123-117 (.512) @Arizona

3. N.Y. Jets 3-12 126-114 (.525) Kansas City

4. Atlanta 3-12 127-113 (.529) Seattle

5. Kansas City 4-11 122-118 (.508) @N.Y. Jets

6. Oakland 4-11 123-117 (.512) San Diego

7. Ravens 4-11 124-116 (.517) Pittsburgh

8. San Fran.-x 5-10 112-128 (.467) @Cleveland

x-New England owns the 49ers' pick

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