The optimism inside the Baltimore Ravens' locker room stems not just from the 2-1 record that places them atop the AFC North standings, but from who has helped them get off to a good start -- namely, the reserves.
Five starters and one notable reserve were on the inactive list and watched as the Ravens handled division rival Cincinnati, 23-9, on Sunday.
"That's the kicker," guard Edwin Mulitalo said. "When we get everyone back, we're going to be that much better."
Baltimore hosts winless Kansas City on Monday night, and the extra day of rest should give some of the injured time to heal. The Ravens are hopeful that starting nose tackle Kelly Gregg (knee) and nickel back Deion Sanders (hamstring) will be ready to play against the Chiefs.
Coach Brian Billick said he doubts that Pro Bowl tight end Todd Heap (ankle) and wide receiver Travis Taylor (groin) will be back. Starting center Mike Flynn, who broke his collarbone on Aug. 23, will participate in practice and take increased reps this weeks, though Billick wasn't sure if he would be available against the Chiefs.
The backups played well against the Bengals. Center Casey Rabach anchored an offensive line that paved the way for running back Jamal Lewis's 186 rushing yards. Wide receiver Randy Hymes caught his first touchdown pass, finished with four catches for 61 yards and is slowly becoming the player the Ravens look to on the outside with Taylor and Heap out. Nose tackle Maake Kemoeatu had a career-high eight tackles and two quarterback hits.
"This team is getting comfortable with the idea that one of our strengths is the depth through the 53-man roster," Billick said during his weekly news conference. "If we can scratch and fight our way through the next two weeks and come out successful, then [comes] the bye week. That's where that optimism is based, in that hopefully we'll start to get some of these guys back and build on what the other guys have already done."
Safety Ed Reed intercepted two passes deep in Ravens territory against the Bengals, and afterward, he said that they were "just a matter of me doing my job" -- something that the coaches were happy to hear. It was the third two-interception game of his career.
"Ed has said, and as we have said in the first couple of games, Ed has wandered a bit, trying to make plays happen. You can't fault a player for that, but sometimes you leave yourself vulnerable," Billick said. "What's exciting is that he got his interceptions by doing his job, being where he was supposed to be, kind of letting it come to him. I think it was great for Ed to experience that."
Against the Chiefs, the Ravens will make their first "Monday Night Football" appearance since Sept. 30, 2002 (a 34-23 win over Denver); the following week they will face the Washington Redskins in the Sunday night game on ESPN.
"We got through the division, now we've got two where the country's going to see what we're about," Billick said. "There's a lot of pride on this team, and they want to look good. And then you've got a chance to take a deep breath and maybe get some guys back as well. They're very focused on what these next two weeks represent."
Ravens Notes: The players have Tuesday and Wednesday off, and will resume practicing Thursday in preparation for Kansas City. . . .
Tackle Orlando Brown was awarded the offensive game ball for a "near-perfect, mistake-free game," Billick said. Reed (defense) and Chester Taylor (special teams) were also given game balls. . . .
Former Baltimore defensive end Michael McCrary will be inducted into the Ravens' Ring of Honor during halftime of the Kansas City game. McCrary, a graduate of Marshall High, is second on the Ravens' career sack list with 51.