Ravens won't lack for motivation with the whole country watching

October 23, 2011|Kevin Cowherd

I think we can all agree football on Monday nights ain't what it used to be.

Oh, it's still a prime-time game. Just not as prime time as it once was. Now you have Sunday night football. And Thursday night football. And pretty soon you'll have NFL football on every night, a non-stop festival of big hits and endless replays and coaches' challenges and lame Miller Lite commercials.

Still, the Ravens say there's a simple reason they won't lose their focus Monday when they play the awful Jacksonville Jaguars at EverBank Field.

"You don't want to make any mistakes with everyone watching," Ravens safety Ed Reed said.

See, that's the thing: It's not just another game on Monday night. Millions of people still watch this game. And knowing that millions are watching triggers a powerful fear in even the most veteran players.

No, it's not fear of failure. It's far more unnerving than that.

It's fear of embarrassment.

A lot of NFL players, especially the young guys, go into these games praying: Please don't let me screw up tonight.

Not in front of a national TV audience. Not with my family and friends watching. Not with every person I've ever known in my life watching, too.

A former NFL player once told me he was so terrified of looking bad in prime time that he'd throw up before the games.

OK, lots of players throw up before a game.

But this guy would start hurling a week before the game. And he'd hurl every day leading up to it. By the time the game rolled around, he'd weigh as much as a jockey.

Still, if it's fear of screwing up that motivates the Ravens against the hapless Jaguars, that's fine with the Ravens coaches, who spent last week talking up the Jags to anyone with a notebook or microphone.

But the truth is, any way you look at it, the Jaguars are a mess. After winning their season opener at home against the Tennessee Titans, they've lost five in a row.

Their coach, good-guy Jack Del Rio, is on the hot seat. And in Del Rio's case, it's hotter than a waffle iron. Even if the Jags win tonight, it'll be a miracle if he keeps his job to the end of the season.

Blaine Gabbert, Jacksonville's rookie quarterback, will be making his fifth career start against the most punishing defense in the league. He's already been sacked 14 times. And he's been smacked plenty of other times, too.

And Monday he'll be staring across the line of scrimmage at Haloti Ngata, Terrell Suggs, Ray Lewis, all amped-up and yappy and ready to pound him. This is why young quarterbacks last two or three years in the league and then go into accounting.

If Gabbert can't get the passing game going, the Jags will have to rely on running back Maurice Jones-Drew, the two-time Pro Bowler who's built along the lines of a chimney with legs.

In the time-honored tradition of coaches everywhere, Ravens defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano made the 5-foot-7 Jones-Drew sound like the greatest running back of all time.

Actually, he made Jones-Drew sound like the unholy spawn of Michael Myers, Jim Brown and Mike Tyson.

"You put on the tape and this guy is like a rolling ball of butcher knives," Pagano said of Jones-Drew. "He's scary. He runs over linebackers, he knocks guys out, he puts people to sleep. We got to do a great job, as always, of setting the edge and not giving him the outside.

"But he's a downhill guy. He can bounce, jump, cut, skin, he can do everything. We've got to get as many hats on him as possible and hang on for dear life."

He can "skin?'

And "a rolling ball of butcher knives" — is that beautiful or what?

Pagano, he's like the Shakespeare of defensive coordinators. I could listen to the guy all day when he rhapsodizes like that. Why, it's practically poetry.

Of course, it's not like Jones-Drew is some taxi squad guy, either. He's averaging 95.3 yards a game rushing. And his 572 rushing yards are third in the league.

But the truth is, the Ravens don't let too many teams run on them. As Ray Lewis says, they take it as a personal affront when a running back does well against them. It's all tied in with that fear of embarrassment stuff.

Could be a long night for the Jaguars.

Long night for the "rolling ball of butcher knives," too.

kevin.cowherd@baltsun.com

(Listen to Kevin Cowherd Tuesdays at 7:20 a.m. on 105.7 The Fan's "Norris and Davis Show.")

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