Staying healthy is a major goal in any NFL game, but the Baltimore Ravens consider it much more important than beating the New York Giants in the final preseason game for both teams at the unusual time of noon Friday at PSINet Stadium. Playing the game Friday night or Saturday afternoon or evening would conflict with Baltimore Orioles games those days.
"This may be the shortest game in the history of the NFL," Ravens Coach Brian Billick said. "It might be the first game in the history of the NFL that not a pass is thrown. . . . The priority is to get out healthy, but I reminded the players that the best way to stay healthy is to play hard."
Billick was joking about that no-pass possibility. But he did say that Ravens starters would play no more than the first quarter. That includes quarterback Scott Mitchell and the rest of the passing unit, which has shown progress in each of the prior three games, all Ravens wins.
The game will mark the debut of Pro Bowl outside linebacker Peter Boulware, who suffered a shoulder injury on the final day of a late June mini-camp. Boulware had similar shoulder problems much of last season but still managed 8 1/2 sacks, 10th best in the AFC.
This also was supposed to be the first appearance for defensive end Michael McCrary, who had knee surgery in mid-March. However, McCrary left the team for two days early this week because of a contract dispute and missed enough practice time for Billick to keep him sidelined.
But McCrary has been working at nearly top speed with the first unit for more than a week, and his continuing go-rounds with Pro Bowl offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden in practice should prepare him for the Sept. 12 regular season opener.
On offense, Tony Banks will take over from Mitchell and finish the first half. Billick said that Stoney Case, signed as a free agent two weeks ago, should play the entire second half. Case had a memorable first game as a Raven last week. Against the Carolina Panthers, his passing set up one touchdown, and he also threw for the winning touchdown with 10 seconds left. But an earlier fumble by Case was picked up by a Carolina lineman and returned 58 yards for a touchdown.
The Panthers also returned another Ravens fumble, by running back Priest Holmes, for a touchdown. Surrendering 14 points via turnovers worried Billick, but not overly so because the hit on Holmes was exceptionally hard and he usually does not fumble. Case's fumble also was after a very hard tackle, and he probably could have avoided the player who made it with a better understanding of the offense.
What concerns Billick most are the many special teams mistakes, including penalties, muffed returns and missed tackles.
"I also have not been pleased with our distance on kickoffs," said special teams coach Russ Purnell, referring to both incumbent Matt Stover and Scott Bentley.
Teams must trim their rosters from 65 to 53 on Sunday, and the Stover-Bentley battle seems the only one left between players familiar to most fans.
Ravens vs. Giants
What: Baltimore Ravens (3-0) vs. New York Giants (2-1).
Where: PSINet Stadium, Baltimore.
Tickets: 1,900 remaining.
TV: WJZ-13 (taped at 1:30 p.m.); HTS (taped at 6:30 p.m.).
Radio: WLIF-FM-101.9, WSMD-FM-98.3, WJFK-1300, WXTR-820.
Line: Ravens by 2.