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Old 10-30-2007, 12:03 AM   #1
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Default Finally healthy, Ravens now must overcome shaky start

Finally healthy, Ravens now must overcome shaky start
By The Associated Press
Tuesday, October 30, 2007

OWINGS MILLS, Md. - Long before he assembled his team for the first practice of training camp, Brian Billick already knew what had to be done for the Baltimore Ravens to get into the playoffs.

"Our guys are very aware of the schedule we have," Billick said. "When you have a schedule like that, it's important that you start fast."

Good observation, poor execution. The Ravens stumbled into their bye week at 4-3 despite playing seven teams that currently own a collective 13-25 record.

Now things really get difficult. After some much-needed time off, Baltimore faces a six-game stretch that includes matchups against New England, Indianapolis, San Diego and AFC North-rival Pittsburgh.

Time for Plan B.

"I don't want to say we have to go back to the drawing board," left offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden said. "We have to hone in on some things and make sure we are doing what needs to get done."

Like scoring a few touchdowns. Kicker Matt Stover has been a savior for a sputtering offense that has produced only eight TDs, a shortcoming that has caused the Ravens to rely far too heavily on the league's second-ranked defense.

Granted, Baltimore has been forced to deal with an inordinate amount of injuries, most notably Ogden (toe), quarterback Steve McNair (groin, back) and tight end Todd Heap (hamstring). For two straight games before the bye, the Ravens started three rookies on the offensive line.

That explains to a degree why Baltimore has repeatedly stumbled in the red zone. But linebacker Ray Lewis openly questioned Billick's play-calling following last week's 19-14 loss to Buffalo, wondering aloud why the Ravens passed three straight times when needing only 1 yard to extend a drive in the closing minutes.

He didn't mention that Baltimore was held scoreless in the first half by the league's 31st-ranked defense.

"We didn't play good enough to win and the score dictated that. You can tiptoe around it and you can pretend it didn't happen, but it is what it is," receiver Derrick Mason said. "We're going into the bye and we'll straighten out some things that we got wrong. Our attitude needs to be that we win every game no matter who we play."

And that's beginning on Nov. 5 at Pittsburgh.

Regardless of how the division-leading Steelers fare Sunday at Cincinnati, the Ravens will be playing for first place when they return from the bye.

"I'm pleased we're in that position, that we can play a game on Monday night for the lead in the division," Billick said. "Am I satisfied with 4-3? Of course not."

Baltimore's poor start leaves the team with very little margin for error. The Ravens now have as many losses as last year, when they rode a 13-3 record to the AFC North title and a second seed in the playoffs.

"It's tough. We've had a few injuries and guys are playing out of position," said center Mike Flynn, who missed time with a sore knee. "It happens every once in a while: You get one of those years where a certain position is hit with injuries. This year, it's the O-Line and the tight ends."

If there's one reason for encouragement, it's that the Ravens will be healthy when they return. Flynn, offensive tackle Adam Terry (ankle) defensive end Trevor Pryce (broken wrist) and cornerback Chris McAlister (knee) are expected to rejoin the starting lineup with McNair, Ogden and Heap to help Baltimore make a push for the postseason.

"This bye week is good for us. We have a lot of guys out, a lot of key parts on both sides of the ball," defensive end Terrell Suggs said. "It's a good week to get everyone rested and get everybody healthy."

Said Billick: "We earned the 4-3, both good and bad. Can we be optimistic about our future, in terms of who's coming back to us, and the fact that we get to play three (straight) division games? ... Yeah, I'm pleased we're in that position."

After facing the Steelers, the Ravens have home games against Cincinnati and Cleveland before playing, in succession, San Diego, New England and Indianapolis.

"It will be tough, but we know what we're capable of," receiver Mark Clayton said. "It comes down to focusing, going out on the field and playing our type of football."

There can be no more excuses, no more lost opportunities. Win, or else.

"To a man, you've got to look at yourself in the eye and say: 'Do you really want to play this game? Do you really want to go out there and give it your all?'" Mason said. "If you want to talk the talk, prove it. We're in a corner right now. And nobody can sugarcoat it. Either we're going to come out fighting like a lion or we're going to stay balled up like a cub."

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