OWINGS MILLS, Md., Dec. 8 -- Several days have passed since the Baltimore Ravens blew a 17-point lead in a one-point loss to the visiting Cincinnati Bengals, and the uncharacteristic performance by the Ravens' defense is still a touchy subject.
Linebacker Ray Lewis was clearly irritated with questions that centered on the defensive lapses of the past two games, rather than the Ravens' upcoming game with the New York Giants, and he angrily responded to them in front of a large group of reporters Wednesday.
Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis has some choice words for the media following practice on Wednesday as he defends his team's play after their loss to the Bengals last Sunday.
(Jonathan Newton - The Washington Post)
"When we play good or we play bad, treat it with the same respect," Lewis said. "That's the same reason why it's so hard to come in here, trying to talk, because it's always about yesterday. It's never about where we're trying to go. What about this frustration? What about that frustration? A loss is a loss. A win is a win.
"We're 7-5 right now, but everybody's acting like it's the end of the world. But as soon as we make the playoffs, then it's all -- this is the way we've done it. We've never done anything easy around here. Even in 2000, when we won the Super Bowl, [it wasn't] easy. We were never picked to win a game in 2000. This right here? I've been through this before. . . . We're trying to go in and play the Giants. How does any of this matter? What you all want to talk about?"
Only 165 points were scored against the Ravens in 2000, an NFL record for fewest points allowed in a 16-game season. That year, Baltimore won its final seven games -- holding five of those opponents to a touchdown or less -- and secured the wild card. If the Ravens are going to earn a wild card this season (they trail AFC North Division leader Pittsburgh by four games), they need to improve a defense that has suffered lapses in the last two games.
In losses to New England and Cincinnati, the Ravens yielded 39 fourth-quarter points (though seven came on a fumble recovery in the end zone) after giving up 55 in the first 10 games. Cincinnati rolled up 222 yards of total offense -- 200 through the air -- and scored 24 points in the fourth quarter in the 27-26 win. Quarterback Carson Palmer threw for three touchdowns in the final 15 minutes against a defense that had given up just seven touchdown passes in the first 11 games.
The Bengals never faced a third-down situation in the fourth quarter, though Palmer made two big plays facing second and long on the final two drives. He found a wide-open T.J. Houshmandzadeh across the middle for a 34-yard gain on a second-and-20. On the game-winning drive, after being sacked for an eight-yard loss, Palmer again connected with a wide-open Houshmandzadeh for a 32-yard gain.
"Everything that happened on Sunday is correctable," cornerback Chris McAlister said. "There were no physical mismatches out there; we just didn't execute the way that we can."
The Ravens insist that this is not part of a larger trend. Coach Brian Billick summed up the root of the problem in three words: alignment, assignment and technique. Linebacker Ed Hartwell echoed his coach and suggested that perhaps the Ravens were trying too hard to make plays, and that's what pushed them out of alignment.
"If there are errors in alignment, assignment and technique, it can lead to a lot of bad things," Billick said. "The good news is, in each of those instances, at no point were we physically overwhelmed."
With four games left, including difficult road games at Indianapolis (9-3) and Pittsburgh (11-1), the Ravens need to make corrections quickly. Sunday against the Giants, who are starting rookie quarterback Eli Manning and have lost six of their past seven games, would be a good start. Lewis says to bet on the defense.
"Speaking about our defense, it's simple -- to win in this league, you have to have a great defense," Lewis said. "Coming down the stretch, we need to win. I'll put my money on my defense every time."
Ravens Notes: Running back Jamal Lewis (ankle), tackle Orlando Brown (knee) and cornerback Deion Sanders (foot) participated in portions of practice on Wednesday, and all are listed as questionable. . . . Tight end Todd Heap, who played 25 snaps against the Bengals, said that his ankle feels "the same if not better than last week" and that he's ready to get more involved in the offense Sunday.