Despite Poor Play, Ravens Know They're Still in It

By Camille Powell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, October 23, 2007

OWINGS MILLS, Md., Oct. 22 -- At the very least, this much can be said about the Baltimore Ravens as they limp into their bye week: When they next play Nov. 5 in Pittsburgh, they will have the chance to earn a share of the AFC North lead.

The Steelers' 31-28 loss to Denver on Sunday night dropped their record to 4-2. Baltimore is 4-3.

"All you can ever ask in this game is: 'Can I play a game that matters in November and December?' Otherwise you're just being greedy," Coach Brian Billick said Monday during his weekly news conference. "We're playing in November for a chance to lead the division, and that's all you can ask. Am I satisfied with 4-3? No, from an analytical standpoint. . . .

"Can we be optimistic about our future in terms of who's coming back to us, and the fact that we get to play three division games? So we will impact the division standings, one way or another, over the next three games that we play."

But Billick cautioned that the Ravens, who opened the season with Super Bowl aspirations, have left themselves vulnerable, particularly considering the road that lies ahead. Five of their remaining nine games come against teams that are currently leading their respective divisions.

Baltimore has three straight AFC North games -- at Pittsburgh, and against Cincinnati and Cleveland at home -- followed by this arduous stretch: at San Diego (Nov. 25), against New England (Dec. 3) and against Indianapolis (Dec. 9).

"I'm not concerned at all, because it's going to show us what we got," said running back Willis McGahee, who ran for a season-high 114 yards in Sunday's 19-14 loss at Buffalo. "It's either going to make us or break us. I'm looking forward to the challenge."

So far the Ravens haven't shown they're ready for that kind of challenge. Six of the seven teams Baltimore has played thus far have losing records. Cleveland's 3-3 mark is the best of the group, and the Browns beat Baltimore by two touchdowns.

The Ravens' four victories have come against teams with a combined record of 6-21, and three of those teams were starting backup quarterbacks: Kellen Clemens (New York Jets), Trent Dilfer (San Francisco) and Gus Frerotte (St. Louis).

"We've got to play better, that's all it boils down to," wide receiver Derrick Mason said. "We're in the same situation we were in last year going into the bye week, having some questions about the offense. . . . We've got to figure out what's wrong. We have the talent. The coaching staff is great; they'll figure it out. Come off the bye week, and we'll come back refocused and ready to go."

Seven starters have been nursing injuries of varying severity over the past few weeks: quarterback Steve McNair (groin and back), tight end Todd Heap (hamstring), tackle Jonathan Ogden (toe), tackle Adam Terry (ankle), center Mike Flynn (knee), defensive end Trevor Pryce (wrist) and cornerback Chris McAlister (knee). The Ravens expect to have all of those players available to play against the Steelers.

McNair did not play the past two games, in the hopes the extra rest will allow his injuries to heal. McNair, 34, strained his groin during the first offensive series of the season, and then tweaked his back two weeks ago. He is expected to start against the Steelers, and Billick said he has seen "nothing to lead me to believe that he won't be as healthy and as fresh as when we started the season, which is kind of unique."

Ogden was on the field for roughly a dozen snaps and held up well while having to face Bills defensive end Aaron Schobel on Sunday. Ogden, who initially hyperextended his left big toe last season, is not yet in game shape, but he was encouraged because he didn't struggle with his movement on the field.

Pryce, the Ravens' best inside pass rusher, missed the past five games with a broken wrist. Heap, one of the key weapons for an offense that has been struggling, was sidelined for much of the past three games.

"The bye week is good for us," linebacker Terrell Suggs said. "We have a lot of guys out, a lot of key parts on both sides of the ball. It's a good week to get everyone rested and get everybody healthy, and we'll come back Monday night versus Pittsburgh."

The players are off through Sunday and will return to work Monday. Billick did not consider adding any extra practices this week, even though Sunday's loss in Buffalo was one of their sloppiest performances (11 penalties, one turnover) of the season.

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