-- The turnaround began for the Kansas City Chiefs on the practice field Friday. Coach Dick Vermeil watched his players slam full-speed into one another during a spirited drill, then stopped practice and ordered them to shed their pads to finish with some lower-intensity work so that no one would get hurt before Monday night's game in Baltimore.

That left Vermeil so confident that his team's beleaguered defense would slow down Ravens tailback Jamal Lewis that he told Chiefs President Carl Peterson shortly before the game Monday that the team might lose because of a reverse or a quarterback bootleg or a play-action pass. But they wouldn't lose because of a run by Lewis.

Vermeil was right. The Chiefs bottled up Lewis for most of the night, limiting him to 73 rushing yards. They dominated the line of scrimmage on both defense and offense, held the ball for nearly 40 of the game's 60 minutes, got 125 rushing yards from tailback Priest Holmes and won for the first time after three disheartening losses, beating the Ravens, 27-24.

"To come in here and win when you've already lost three and people have written you off and took a lot of sarcastic shots at us, to do what they did, I have a lot of respect for it,'' Vermeil said after the game.

The Chiefs, who went 13-3 last year, weren't quite ready to declare that their Super Bowl hopes had been restored. But they certainly felt a lot better about themselves after an 0-3 start followed their abrupt ouster from last season's playoffs by the Indianapolis Colts.

"We think we're one of the best teams in the NFL," tight end Tony Gonzalez said. "We still think that. We'll take this as a positive and go from here. No one is saying after one win that we're headed to the Super Bowl, but this was a total team victory.'"

Vermeil won't have to spend the next few weeks answering questions about why the team failed to upgrade its defensive personnel in the offseason and believed that the arrival of new coordinator Gunther Cunningham alone would produce improvement.

"Our defensive line and coaches have taken a lot of [abuse]," Vermeil said. "And I hope everybody that criticizes them and everything else forgets it. If you're patient with good kids and keep working at it, they usually get better."

Said Chiefs quarterback Trent Green: "It was great to see our defense step up when called upon. What a great game for them."

The Chiefs have a bye this weekend, then finish October with games against Jacksonville, Atlanta and Indianapolis -- teams that have a combined record of 10-2. But they didn't seem to care about that as Vermeil made the rounds of the visitors' locker room at M&T Bank Stadium following Monday's game, offering pats on the back, congratulatory handshakes and hugs to his players.

"I'm fortunate enough to have coached 15 years in this league, and I have a lot of experience losing three in a row," Vermeil said. "I think I know how to handle it, with the help of good coaches. It's not a lot of fun, especially for guys that have worked as hard and have the expectations that we had. And everyone was so willing to jump ship on us. People kind of forget that we won 13 games. It's still there. Maybe I'm screwing them up, but it's not gone."

Gonzalez said, "That's a hole -- 0-3 -- but it's not something we can't get out of."

Ricky's Return?

Retired tailback Ricky Williams is interested in returning to the Miami Dolphins, his agent said yesterday. "Ricky has asked me to explore and to try to facilitate his return," Leigh Steinberg told the Associated Press. "He has a passion for playing football and is excited about playing."

But Williams, who retired abruptly just before training camp, could not play this season unless the league waives a rule relating to its substance-abuse program. Under the rule, if a player already in the program, such as Williams, retires and then returns in less than a year, he is charged with a violation of the policy -- a violation that, in Williams's case, would result in a one-year suspension.

Williams, who was ordered by an arbitrator last month to repay the Dolphins $8.6 million, has sent a letter to the league asking for a clarification of his playing status. Some people around the league suspect that Williams is trying to force the Dolphins' hand. If they don't want him back, the Dolphins might have to trade him by next season. He has expressed a desire to play for the Oakland Raiders.

Minnesota's Maladies

The Minnesota Vikings might be down to their fourth-string tailback, rookie Mewelde Moore, for Sunday's game at Houston.

The Vikings were among the teams that every club looking for a tailback targeted in the preseason because of their depth at the position with Michael Bennett, Onterrio Smith and Moe Williams. But Bennett has been sidelined since spraining his right medial collateral and anterior cruciate ligaments in late August. He was to return this week, but tore meniscus while blocking during a bye-week practice last Thursday. Bennett underwent surgery Monday and is to miss another two to four weeks.

Smith was informed by the NFL yesterday that he now would begin serving his four-game suspension for violating the league's substance-abuse policy. He played the first three games while his appeal of his suspension was pending. Williams has a strained calf muscle, and Coach Mike Tice joked at his news conference Monday, "Herschel Walker is going to come out of retirement and start for us this week." . . .

The acquisition of J.T. O'Sullivan from New Orleans in the Monday trade that sent cornerback Mike McKenzie to the Saints gives the Green Bay Packers four quarterbacks -- Brett Favre, Doug Pederson, Craig Nall and O'Sullivan. But Pederson could be headed to the injured reserve list. He broke a rib and a transverse process (a bony projection off the side of a vertebra that serves as an attachment for muscles and ligaments) in Sunday's loss to the New York Giants after Favre exited the game with a concussion. Pederson will be sidelined about six weeks. . . .

Saints Coach Jim Haslett was in damage-control mode Monday after quarterback Aaron Brooks and defensive end Charles Grant got into a confrontation on the team plane after Sunday's loss at Arizona. "Both guys are passionate about winning," Haslett said at his news conference. "They're both upset about the way they played and we played. . . . By the time it [becomes public], it's probably an all-out brawl and the plane almost went down. It was nothing like that at all." Broken Bone, Unbroken Streak

New York Jets center Kevin Mawae made his 158th straight start Sunday, playing despite breaking a bone in his right hand 17 days ago (the team had its bye week after that). The right-handed Mawae played with his right hand heavily bandaged and snapped left-handed. He switched positions with left guard Pete Kendall on a couple of plays. There was one botched exchange between Mawae and quarterback Chad Pennington. . . . The Jaguars signed Bob Whitfield, Atlanta's longtime starter at left tackle who was released by the Falcons just before the season -- two days after losing starting left tackle Mike Pearson to a season-ending knee injury.

Dick Vermeil embraces Priest Holmes, who ran for 125 yards during the Chiefs' first victory after an 0-3 start.