OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- As the Baltimore Ravens returned to the practice field Thursday, Coach Brian Billick and his players had plenty to be concerned about. They knew they were about to lose tailback Jamal Lewis, who was absent Thursday as he appeared in an Atlanta courtroom to enter a guilty plea resulting from a plea bargain in his federal drug conspiracy case, to an NFL-imposed suspension. Their passing offense is letting them down again. And, perhaps most disconcerting of all, their vaunted defense was shoved around by the Kansas City Chiefs in a loss Monday night at M&T Bank Stadium that dropped the Ravens' record to 2-2.
"I've been around here since 1996 . . . [and] I can probably count on about two fingers the number of games we've had like that," said the unit's leader and the sport's most relentless defender, middle linebacker Ray Lewis.
Billick said of his defense: "That's a prideful group. They don't like having had done to them what happened the other night. I've seen that look in their eyes before . . . . They're going to want to come back and show that they're a lot better than that."
Billick gave his players Tuesday and Wednesday off before beginning preparations Thursday for another nationally televised game, Sunday night's contest against the Washington Redskins at FedEx Field. These I-95 rivals enter the game with a degree of desperation, and the loser -- particularly if it's the 1-3 Redskins -- will emerge feeling like its season is slipping away.
But the Ravens were in no mood to hear that Thursday. Asked whether the Chiefs had provided future Ravens opponents with a blueprint for dealing with the Baltimore defense, Ray Lewis said: "Let them think they figured it out."
The Chiefs ran over and around the Ravens, as tailback Priest Holmes amassed 125 rushing yards. Now the Ravens face another elite running back in the Redskins' Clinton Portis. Portis and the Redskins have struggled mightily in the season's early stages, but Ravens defensive coordinator Mike Nolan said: "Like falling asleep on 0-3 Kansas City, you don't want to do that with Clinton Portis."
The Ravens expected the league to impose a two-game suspension on Jamal Lewis today, likely enabling him to play against the Redskins but requiring him to miss games, following the club's bye week, against the Buffalo Bills on Oct. 24 and the Philadelphia Eagles on Oct. 31. That will deprive the club of its offensive centerpiece. The Ravens will have to lean on their defense, reserve tailbacks Musa Smith and Chester Taylor and a passing game that ranks last in the league.
The team's offseason focus was upgrading a passing attack that also ranked last in the NFL last season. General Manager Ozzie Newsome accomplished that when he traded for wide receiver Terrell Owens. But that deal was undone by the settlement of the dispute over Owens's free agent status that placed him in Philadelphia to play for his team of choice, the Eagles. Newsome did his best under the circumstances to rebound and bolster his wide receiver corps by trading for veteran Kevin Johnson. But the Ravens resisted signing a veteran quarterback, like Kerry Collins, to challenge for their starting job because they were committed to developing youngster Kyle Boller, a first-round draft choice last year. And now they are living with Boller's ups and downs and dealing with injuries that have sidelined tight end Todd Heap and wideout Travis Taylor.
Billick had a feisty exchange with reporters when the subject of his club's place in the passing-offense rankings came up Thursday.
"I'm going to be as succinct as I can," he said. "You can ask as many times as you want. I don't give a rat's behind about statistics. You win or you lose. I really don't [care]. I really don't. You can keep bringing it up all you want. We were there last year, and we went 10-6 and won the division. So you can put that in quotes, write it down and the next time you want to ask the question, just hold up the sign and say, 'Say this.'
" . . . If you keep asking me the same questions, I'm going to keep giving you the same answers . . . . When I was in Minnesota [as the Vikings' offensive coordinator], I kept getting it shoved down my throat: 'All you care about is statistics. You don't care about wins.' We put up good numbers, and we won. Now it's: 'You don't care about statistics. All you care about is winning.' You're damn right . . . Statistics are fun and they're great to banter around and I'm not trying to be rough with you here. But I'm just trying to say that when you throw up these useless statistics, I don't have much of an answer because they don't mean a whole lot."
The Ravens could only hope they were enduring the most trying week of their season.
"It's a tough week, but it's nothing we can't handle," cornerback Gary Baxter said. "We have great structure, great coaching, and we have professionals here." . . .
Billick also was dismissive when asked by a reporter whether Joe Gibbs's early-season troubles with clock management and instant-replay challenges mean that the game has passed by the Redskins' Hall of Fame coach.
"That's ludicrous," Billick said. "That's absurd. That's just absurd. The man is a brilliant coach. This game is not that complicated. Trust me. You're looking at a team that's still getting used to a style and a system of play. Go pick any coach [who's] new this year, particularly offensively, and look at what they're doing, and you're going to see some maturation of the team. They've got a new quarterback. They've got an entirely new system. That takes a while. Anyone who wants to consider Joe Gibbs being past his prime in this game is ludicrous."
Ravens cornerback Deion Sanders agreed, saying: "The game has certainly not passed Joe Gibbs. Please. He's a great coach. I think any great coach needs great players." . . .
Sanders, who played for the Redskins in 2000 before retiring abruptly prior to the 2001 season, heaped praise Thursday upon two members of the organization -- owner Daniel Snyder and longtime receptionist B.J. Blanchard, the Redskins' most beloved employee.
"The woman at the front desk, she's a wonderful lady, one of the best in the business, and I've been in five different organizations," Sanders said. "She's really good." . . .
Nolan, who was fired by the Redskins after the 1999 season, said: "This is my fifth NFL team. If you have too many grudges and you stay too long, then you hate everybody. I'm very happy to be here. I'd much rather be up here than down there. But it doesn't go any deeper than that. It doesn't do me any good to get into that."
Bengals Can't Stop The Run
Marvin Lewis oversaw top defenses as a coordinator for the Ravens and Redskins. But he's one step removed from the day-to-day operations of his defense now, as the Cincinnati Bengals' second-year head coach, and it shows: The team ranks last in the NFL in rushing defense, surrendering 165.8 yards per game. Bengals opponents are averaging 5.2 yards per carry . . . .
So much for the notion before the season that Travis Henry and Willis McGahee would split the workload at tailback in Buffalo. McGahee has had only 11 carries and one catch in the Bills' first three games as Henry's seldom-utilized backup . . . .
Expect the Houston Texans to have the retractable roof at Reliant Stadium open for Sunday's game against Minnesota. The Vikings have lost 17 of their last 18 regular season games outdoors.
"I really can't explain it," Vikings quarterback Daunte Culpepper said during a conference call this week. "What we've got to do is do something about it. Some games are close games. . . . It takes a couple of plays. You just have to pay attention to detail as a team and go out and take care of business, as simple as that. We've got to definitely turn that around." . . .
Former Vikings great Chuck Foreman, who was named to five straight Pro Bowls in the 1970s as a running back for Minnesota, is scheduled to be on hand Sunday to watch his son, Texans linebacker Jay Foreman, face his former club. . . .
The Vikings expect wide receiver Randy Moss to play Sunday even though he aggravated an ankle injury during Thursday's practice. . . .
New Orleans tailback Deuce McAllister has practiced on a limited basis this week. He has missed the Saints' past two games, including last Sunday's embarrassing loss at Arizona, because of a sprained ankle. Coach Jim Haslett hasn't ruled out using McAllister against Tampa Bay on Sunday. But McAllister still isn't at full capacity and continues to experience discomfort, and he would be weeks ahead of schedule even if his return is delayed until next week. . . .
Denver tailback Quentin Griffin is scheduled to test his sprained ankle in practice today to see if he can play Sunday against Carolina. . . . Panthers tailback Stephen Davis practiced again Thursday and seems increasingly likely to return to the lineup Sunday after missing two games following arthroscopic knee surgery, although the team is calling it a game-time decision. . . .
Quarterback Steve McNair participated in Tennessee's practice Thursday and should be back in the Titans' lineup Monday night at Green Bay. He sat out last Sunday's loss at San Diego after suffering a bruised sternum and spending two nights in a hospital. . . .
Chargers tailback LaDainian Tomlinson practiced Thursday after sitting out Wednesday to rest his strained groin. He is scheduled to play Sunday against Jacksonville. . . .
Chicago guard Ruben Brown is scheduled to undergo surgery today to have a meniscus tear in his left knee repaired. The veteran is to be sidelined two to four weeks.