For Ravens under Harbaugh, talk is cheap

November 16, 2008|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,jamison.hensley@baltsun.com

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - Today's game against the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants can answer a big question about the Ravens.

Are they playoff caliber?

"I don't know if we worry about that at this point in the season," tight end Todd Heap said. "We're going in to win this game. And we'll let people talk about that after that happens."

Said linebacker Ray Lewis: "For us, it's just the next game up. We take the same approach with every game, and the guys do a great job with it."

Are these really the Ravens talking?

In completing the most formidable journey in team history - five road games in six weeks - the Ravens (6-3) are shattering their old image under the direction of rookie head coach John Harbaugh.

They have proved they have the mind-set to win consistently on the road, coming away with victories at Miami, Cleveland and Houston.

They have shown their offense can be as dangerous as their defense, putting up at least 27 points as a team in four straight games (the first time that has happened in Ravens history).

Now, they're not even talking the way they usually do before a big game.

In the previous nine seasons, the Ravens gained the reputation as trash talkers and would "go in screaming like a banshee," as former coach Brian Billick would like to say.

These days, instead of talking about titles, the players are talking in cliches. One by one, they echo Harbaugh's message - one sign that the players are buying into what their new coach is saying.

"You guys can get upset with us with the 'one week at a time' deal," Harbaugh said. "But [cliches] are there for a reason ... because they're true."

What is also true is that few people around the country are talking about the Ravens, who have won four straight games to tie the Pittsburgh Steelers atop the AFC North.

Whether it's skepticism about a rookie coach or a rookie quarterback, there is a lack of national buzz surrounding this team.

Before Thursday's game, only one AFC team had a better record than the Ravens - the Tennessee Titans (9-0) - and yet the national media still consider the Ravens to be in the middle of the pack.

The major power rankings - from NFL.com (the Ravens are No. 9) to ESPN.com (No. 12) to CBSSports.com (No. 13) - generally have the Ravens behind the likes of the Atlanta Falcons, Arizona Cardinals and Tampa Bay Buccaneers - who are all 6-3 as well.

When asked whether the Ravens are getting the national respect they deserve, center Jason Brown said, "Really, when it comes down to it, I don't care."

With the Ravens not talking, they are leaving it to their play to make a statement.At this point, the Ravens' resume is littered with question marks. While they have nearly knocked off some of the NFL's best, they have yet to beat a team that had a winning record at the time they played.

But a victory over the Giants (8-1) would stamp the Ravens as a playoff contender and perhaps a Super Bowl one.

"I don't think we're worried about that," quarterback Joe Flacco said. "We go out each week and try to get a win. It doesn't matter who we're playing. The New York Giants are just another team."

Except the Giants aren't just another team.

Since upsetting the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl, the Giants are thriving as the team to beat this season.

Running over teams, the Giants have the NFL's No. 4 offense. Roughing up quarterbacks, they have the league's No. 3 defense.

"I think the Giants are a better team now than they were last year," said Harbaugh, who coached against the Giants twice last season as an assistant for the Philadelphia Eagles. "They've gotten better from last year, in the offseason, and they've gotten better every single week."

Maybe that's why the Giants are favored by seven points. The Ravens are the biggest underdog of any team with a winning record.

"That's paper," Brown said. "This game is going to be played on the field."

Whether the players talk about it, the Ravens could send a message by beating the Giants today.

Ravens defensive coordinator Rex Ryan was one of the few people who acknowledged "there probably is a little extra juice" in playing the defending Super Bowl champions.

"We want to get to the playoffs," Ryan said, "and you've got to beat good teams on the road to do that."

RAVENS (6-3) @GIANTS (8-1)

Today, 1 p.m.

TV: Chs. 13, 9

Radio: 97.9 FM, 1090 AM

Line: N.Y. by 7

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