Ravens stuck in Super Bowl time warp

OWINGS MILLS -- The time warp of football past has landed on the Baltimore Ravens' roof. The Ravens' version of "Ground Hog Day" represents a selection of pages borrowed from their Super Bowl book penned three years ago. There's the lethargic offense treating the end zone as unauthorized territory as it's been six quarters since a Raven has safely escorted the football over the goal line.

All-Pro blocker Jonathan Ogden scored the last touchdown on a tackle-eligible pass two weeks ago in the second quarter of a loss to the St. Louis Rams. Meanwhile, a relentless defense headlined by linebacker Ray Lewis has been roughing up opponents for weeks and ranks third in the league in total defense.  

During the Super Bowl season, it was an even more extreme differential. Baltimore went five games without scoring a touchdown as kicker Matt Stover was responsible for all of the scoring in the month of October with 49 consecutive points. "It was pretty rough sledding and this feels a lot like it except I'm more confident that we're going to snap out of this slump," offensive guard Edwin Mulitalo said. "Eventually, we've got to just relax and play football. You can't get too tight or you'll never be productive." 

Entering Sunday's contest against the Seattle Seahawks (7-3) at M&T Bank Stadium, the Ravens (5-5) are tied for the lead in the AFC North with the Cincinnati Bengals as Stover has booted a total of five field goals in two consecutive losses.  "It is almost the same," cornerback Chris McAlister said of the similarity to the Super Bowl campaign. "If we can dig ourselves out and get a victory, maybe we can get something going." 

In the Ravens' fourth game of 2000, Trent Dilfer, who's now with the Seahawks, replaced a struggling Tony Banks against Tennessee and lost his first start against Pittsburgh, 9-6, as Baltimore was again held without a touchdown. Then, the Ravens broke the touchdown barrier in a 27-7 win over the Bengals to reel off 11 consecutive wins to claim the NFL title. "It was a test of our will and our manhood," said receiver Travis Taylor, a rookie on the Super Bowl team. "We did it before and now we've got to try to do it again." 

Yet, Baltimore is stuck in quicksand with an offense that ranks second in rushing and last in the league with 127.3 passing yards per contest. Rookie quarterback Kyle Boller is out for at least the next three weeks after quadriceps surgery. Interim passer Anthony Wright tossed two interceptions in his starting debut for Baltimore in a 9-6 overtime loss to the Miami Dolphins. The defense allowed 121 yards to the Rams and surrendered three field goals to Miami. "There is no beef whatsoever," McAlister said. "We are not mad at the offense, offense is not mad at the defense and no one is mad at special teams. "Our offense has been this way before. The offense will get the job done. We will get the job done and we are going to win as a team." 

Once again, running back Jamal Lewis is carrying the majority of the offensive workload. Lewis leads the league in rushing with 1,244 yards along with seven touchdowns. When Lewis was a rookie in 2000, the Ravens finished fifth in the NFL in rushing as he rambled for a club-record 1,364 yards. He fumbled twice against the Rams and was involved in a critical botched exchange that led to the game-winning field goal against Miami. The play was eventually credited as Wright's fumble on Wednesday after a review of the Elias Sports Bureau. 

Twenty penalties and 10 turnovers over the last two weeks, the quarterback situation along with Lewis' nagging shoulder injury have affected the offense heavily.  "There's only so much you can do," said Ravens coach Brian Billick, who has a career mark of 23-12 in November and December. "It's focus. It's, 'Don't make mistakes.' It's being physical. It's all the same things that it takes to win any football game." 

In 30 trips inside the 20, Baltimore has scored nine touchdowns with 18 Stover field goals for a 30-percent touchdown percentage. "The antenna has to be all the way up," Lewis said. "We have to really concentrate on what we need to for this next six weeks. It all starts against Seattle. We'll put it all together." 

Taylor leads the AFC with eight dropped passes, according to Stats, Inc. Besides Pro Bowl tight end Todd Heap's 43 catches for 511 yards and Taylor's 24 catches for 390 yards, the remaining receivers and tight ends have combined for 31 catches for 280 yards. The Ravens have six games left, including the next three weeks in a row at home capped by a Dec. 7 game against the Bengals. "Every week is important now," cornerback Corey Fuller said. "We are truly in a dogfight." 

Baltimore is averaging 290.8 yards a game and 21.2 points a game, but hasn't posted a multiple-touchdown game since a Nov. 2 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars.  "We definitely have the talent and the heart to pull out of this," Taylor said, "but we need to get off the ropes before we dig ourselves too big a hole." 


Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times.

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