-- Baltimore Ravens Coach Brian Billick has said several times this week that the Kansas City Chiefs team that is coming to Baltimore on Monday night is the same team that beat the Ravens, 17-10, in the fourth week of the 2003 season.
There's one big difference, though. Those Chiefs were undefeated and on their way to a 9-0 start when they visited Baltimore. These Chiefs are winless, 0-3 for the first time since 1980.
It's such a shocking start for a team that finished 13-3 a year ago, Kansas City Coach Dick Vermeil has been getting supportive phone calls from a wide range of friends, everyone from the captain of the first high school football team he coached to television actor Fred Dryer to Charles Barkley.
An 0-3 record "is a situation you wouldn't want to be in," Kansas City running back Priest Holmes said. "I think the morale for us, with the effect of being 0-3, it pretty much is devastating. It's a pretty big blow not only to our egos but to everything we've established the last couple of years, going 13-3 last year, just the expectations we had were so great."
The Chiefs were mentioned as Super Bowl contenders when the season began; now they face a difficult road just to make the postseason. Since 1990, only three teams have started 0-3 and recovered to make the playoffs: San Diego (1992), Detroit (1995) and Buffalo (1998). And the Chiefs face a brutal slate of games in October. They are off the week after the Baltimore game, then travel to Jacksonville (3-0), before hosting Atlanta (3-0) and Indianapolis (2-1).
"The hardest thing to do -- once you get on a streak -- if it's losing, is trying to get that first win," said Holmes, who has rushed for 351 yards and four touchdowns on 74 carries. "Once we get started with a win, it's definitely going to go downhill for us from there and then we'll be able to really pick up some W's."
In the Chiefs' 24-21 loss to winless Houston last week, they were hurt by two critical plays deep in Texans territory. Holmes was stopped on a fourth and two from the Texans 6-yard line late in the first half. Later, on a second and goal from the 2, quarterback Trent Green's pass was intercepted by Marcus Coleman and returned 102 yards for a touchdown.
"Like any team, there's a play here and there. When you go 13-3, some things happen for you," Billick said. "When you're 0-3, those same things maybe just didn't happen this time. A tipped ball, an unfortunate call. A guy breaks a tackle last year, he doesn't break a tackle this year.
"So it's the same team with the same capabilities, and that's what our guys are going to see very readily. This is the same team that went 13-3 last year, and that's what we've got to keep in the forefront of our mind, beside the fact that they had a tough 0-3 start."
The Chiefs had nine players make the Pro Bowl last season, and all are back. Pro Bowl kick returner Dante Hall, who set a league record by scoring on a return in four consecutive games, leads the NFL with a 14-yard punt return average but has yet to break a big return (his longest punt return is 26 yards, and his longest kickoff return is 45).
But Kansas City made no significant additions to its roster, not even to help shore up what was one of the league's weakest defenses. The Chiefs made one concession to improving their defense; Gunther Cunningham replaced the oft-criticized Greg Robinson as defensive coordinator.
"They felt like they had a good formula," Billick said. "A 13-3 team playing with a pat hand isn't all bad."
Kansas City is still plagued by some of the same problems as last year. In 2003, the Chiefs' potent offense was offset by a defense that ranked 29th in the league. Kansas City lost a 38-31 shootout with Indianapolis in a divisional playoff, a game in which neither team forced the other to punt.
This year, the Chiefs have given up 86 points in three games, the highest total in the league and an average of 28.7 points per game. Opponents have averaged 355.7 yards total offense (150.3 yards on the ground) and have outscored Kansas City 34-7 in the fourth quarter.
"I think it's a new scheme, and we're getting better," Vermeil said of the Chiefs' defense. "There are certain things we are doing better than last year. Last year, we played a little more 'bend and don't break,' and right now we're not trying to play that way. And we've had some breaks. . . . We're not satisfied with where we are."
The Ravens (2-1) are fully aware of what they face on Monday night; in the words of guard Edwin Mulitalo, "The worst animals are the wounded ones."
Baltimore has not beaten the Chiefs in their two previous meetings, and Kansas City is the last team to beat Baltimore at M&T Bank Stadium.
"They don't have anything to lose," Ravens cornerback Gary Baxter said. "At the same time, we know everybody had the high expectations of Kansas City being a Super Bowl pick. Sooner or later, it's got to turn for them. They're 0-3. We don't want them to turn it on us, for a Monday night football game."
Ravens Notes: Several players returned to the practice field for the Ravens, most notably starting nose tackle Kelly Gregg and nickel back Deion Sanders. Gregg missed the last two games after undergoing minor knee surgery, and is listed as questionable for Monday. Sanders, who left the Pittsburgh game with a strained hamstring and did not play last week, is also questionable.
Center Mike Flynn (collarbone) and tight end Todd Heap (ankle) are out. Tackle Ethan Brooks (knee), fullback Ovie Mughelli (hamstring) and wide receiver Travis Taylor (groin) are doubtful; linebacker T.J. Slaughter (hamstring) is questionable. . . . Baxter will make an appearance on Monday Night Football's new halftime segment, "You've Been Sacked," as the target of a practical joke. Linebacker Ray Lewis helped set up the prank, though he initially said no when approached about the idea.
"It's going to be funny," Lewis said. "I don't know if I want to expose it to everyone just yet. It's a nice, nice little joke that happened to him."