Despite an edgy locker room scene following a 9-6 overtime loss Sunday to the Miami Dolphins that involved a cursing match that included linebacker Ray Lewis and offensive tackle Orlando Brown, coach Brian Billick insists that the Ravens aren't in turmoil or lacking civility.
Billick acknowledged that severe frustration does exist, but disputed reports about the Ravens' post-game rancor after falling into a tie with the Cincinnati Bengals for the AFC North lead. He portrayed the Ravens (5-5) using the locker room as a forum where teammates were challenged before and after the loss to perform better. "I was standing right in the middle of that locker room when the supposed incidents came about and was very comfortable with what was being said, the vein in which it was being said and the purpose for it," Billick said. "It was very emotional and it was about accountability. I'm as comfortable with this team, its faith in one another, its ability to deal with one another in tough times as any team I've been a part of. "This team, although frustrated, and that frustration will show up in a lot of ways, is very much a team. They're going to stick together through the tough times."
Regardless of what was allegedly said or not said during a noisy sequence where Ray Lewis was overheard shouting the words "Superman" and "cape" from the shower room, the facts are undeniable in terms of the loss. Especially those 10 penalties, three turnovers and how NFL rushing leader Jamal Lewis fumbled the football a few plays before Olindo Mare booted the game-winning field goal. Over the last two weeks on the road, beginning with a 33-22 loss to the St. Louis Rams, Baltimore has committed a total of 20 penalties with 10 turnovers.
Meanwhile, several players stressed that cuts and bruises on Ray Lewis' face resulted from the football game, not a punch as a Miami columnist insinuated. Lewis said the marks came from the football game, too. He also said there was no yelling even though he was clearly audible from every corner of the visitors' locker room. "Whenever things get put out there, whether rightly or wrongly, the lie becomes a fact if not addressed," Billick said. "I am not trying to chastise anybody or call anybody out. I am simply saying that the way I saw and heard it characterized was inaccurate. I say it as a person who was literally standing there. "This might be odd to some people, but I am not sure if the same people had heard the pregame interaction between our players, they might not have drawn the same conclusions: 'They are kind of going at each other.' No, that is the passion. That is, 'I'm calling you out because you are my teammate and you need to play. Together, we will get this done.'"
What's indisputable about the Ravens, though, is a need for immediate offensive improvement. "It's simple," Ray Lewis said. "You don't turn the ball over in the NFL and you win. It's never going to change. "You turn the ball over, you lose. When it's 6-6 and you have the ball, you have to win. You can't turn the ball over. It's not complicated."
Two weeks ago, the third-ranked Baltimore defense held the Rams to a season-low 121 yards, limited Marshall Faulk to 48 yards on 20 carries and victimized quarterback Marc Bulger for four sacks and two interceptions. Sunday, Dolphins running back Ricky Williams needed 36 carries to gain 105 yards while Brian Griese compiled a 39.3 quarterback rating with 126 yards and 13-of-32 inaccuracy. In terms of any potential division, it's obvious where that chasm would be most likely to occur. The defense is excelling in every phase. And the Baltimore offense remains one-dimensional and ineffectual, ranking second in the NFL in rushing and last in passing. "You got to look at yourself in the mirror and ask, 'What can I do to make this team better?" said receiver Marcus Robinson, who stumbled on an interception and a long incompletion from Wright.
The Ravens have scored only two touchdowns in the last eight quarters and rank last in the NFL in red-zone efficiency. Kicker Matt Stover scored all their points Sunday with a pair of field goals. Rookie quarterback Kyle Boller is recovering from quadriceps surgery and will be out for at least the next three weeks. "There are a lot of things that may not be going our way right now, but we can't blame each other," said interim quarterback Anthony Wright, who threw two interceptions with 112 yards in his first start in two years. "We just need to get the job done." There isn't much of a common denominator for the offense's struggles, or any apparent magical solution. It's a collection of poor reads by the quarterbacks, Jamal Lewis' three fumbles in the last two games, and lots of illegal procedure and holding penalties at inopportune times. "You can't say, 'Well it is what it is and it will straighten itself out and we'll be okay,'" Billick said. "We cannot turn the ball over. So, we will ask the defense to focus on that. "Whether it's in pads on Thursday or shorts on Wednesday as the backs come through with the ball, reach in there and see if you can pull it out. That will bring some focus to it."
NOTE: South Carroll football coach Gene Brown was named the Ravens' High School Coach of the Week for the 10th and final week of the season.
Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times.