Ravens get the job done without injured starters

OWINGS MILLS - For the Baltimore Ravens, gaining a foothold on first place in the AFC North hinged on resiliency and reinforcements.<br><br> After a disturbing loss to the Cleveland Browns to open the season, the Ravens (2-1) won consecutive division games despite the continued absence of several injured players. <br><br> Heading into a Monday night game against the Kansas City Chiefs (0-3), it's been three years since the Ravens got off to a 3-1 start.

That's the same record as when the team launched its Super Bowl run four years ago.

"This team is getting comfortable with the idea that one of our strengths is the depth through the 53-man roster," said coach Brian Billick, who was without five starters and nickel back Deion Sanders in a 23-9 win Sunday over the Cincinnati Bengals. "If we can scratch and fight our way past the next two weeks and be successful, then get to the bye week, we can get some of those injured guys back and build on what the other guys have done."

The Ravens dominated the Bengals at the line of scrimmage as Jamal Lewis rushed for a season-high 186 yards with the defense sacking Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer four times and intercepting three of his passes.

It was center Casey Rabach's third start in place of Mike Flynn, who's out with a broken collarbone and unlikely to return until the Ravens' nationally-televised Sunday night game against the Washington Redskins in two weeks. Rabach capably cut off linebackers' pursuit.

With Pro Bowl tight end Todd Heap nursing a sprained ankle expected to keep him out until the bye that follows the next two games, replacements Terry Jones and Daniel Wilcox combined for only one reception. However, Jones cleared a path on Lewis' fourth-quarter 75-yard touchdown run with his block on defensive end Justin Smith and Wilcox ran interference for Randy Hymes on Baltimore's lone touchdown catch of the season.

Although the Ravens didn't have starting receiver Travis Taylor because of a groin injury likely to sideline him for another week or two, Hymes filled with four receptions for 61 yards with a 38-yard touchdown on a crossing pattern.

"Whenever someone else is out, it's up to the person who's in the game to prove they can be counted on to get the job done," said Hymes, an undrafted former Grambling quarterback. "That's what this team is all about."

Hymes is now the leading receiver with 12 receptions for 124 yards, albeit for the NFL's 31st-ranked passing game. He missed all of last season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament.

"Randy is one of those guys that learns every time that he steps on the field," Billick said. "He is slowly becoming the guy we have to go to on the outside with Travis and Todd being out."

Ray Walls had an uneventful game in place of Sanders, whose strained hamstring is feeling better and hopes to be available Monday night.
Outside linebacker Terrell Suggs, 21, collected his second and third sacks of the season, pressuring Palmer into mistakes as safety Ed Reed intercepted two passes.

Last year's NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year has emerged as a dangerous full-time linebacker opposite Adalius Thomas with four-time Pro Bowl selection Peter Boulware on the physically unable to perform list after off-season knee surgery.

"He runs the complete package now," Billick said. "He's proud of that and is becoming a great professional."

Nose guard Maake Kemoeatu registered a career-high eight tackles with two quarterback hits in 51 snaps against the Bengals in place of starter Kelly Gregg. Gregg underwent arthroscopic knee surgery to repair a torn meniscus two weeks ago and both he and the coaching staff are hopeful he could return this week.

"We're where we want to be," Ravens offensive guard Edwin Mulitalo said. "The kicker is once we get everyone back we're going to be that much better."

The Ravens are poised for scrutiny over the next two weeks with the exposure of two consecutive nationally-televised games. A year ago, Baltimore was 2-1 before losing to Kansas City 17-10 as Dante Hall returned a kickoff 97 yards.

"Now, the country is going to see what we're about," Billick said. "There's a lot of pride on this team. They want to look good.
"Then, you have a chance to take a deep breath and maybe get some guys back as well. So, they're very focused on what the next two weeks represent."

Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times.

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