Billick not ruling out wild-card hopes

OWINGS MILLS -- Following the Baltimore Ravens' emotional setback against the Pittsburgh Steelers, coach Brian Billick isn't waving the white flag of surrender. However, Billick did concede the grim reality of the Ravens' bleak situation. Barring an unprecedented turnaround, Baltimore (2-5) is unlikely to emerge from the basement of the division to gain supremacy of the ultra-competitive AFC North.

Billick is banking on the team bottling up some of the fight it demonstrated during a 20-19 loss Monday night to the Steelers to propel itself toward a wild-card berth.

To finish 10-6 -- the record Billick considers the cut-off point to earn a toehold in the postseason -- the Ravens would have to go 8-1 over the remainder of their schedule.

For a football team that has lost 9 of its past 13 games, seven consecutive road games and remains shorthanded without injured middle linebacker Ray Lewis and safety Ed Reed, a wild-card quest is what's left for this underachieving outfit to pursue.

"Obviously, it's a hell of a climb for a division championship," Billick said. "We'd have to go on a heck of a run. We're cognizant of that. But until someone tells us that mathematically isn't going to happen, that's the hook you have to hold on to. That's where you generate your enthusiasm. Why give up on that hope?

"Why not hold onto that hook for as long as we can? We're putting ourselves in tougher and tougher positions, but we're going to focus more on: ‘Where can we improve?' There are some things that we can definitely build on."

Despite being without six starters against the Steelers and entering the game as 11 ½ point underdogs, the Ravens were highly competitive.

The offense entered the game averaging 11.5 points, the lowest-scoring offense in the NFL, but scored a season-high 19 points. There were five scoring drives along with 20 first downs.

"People didn't expect us to win or make it a ball game, but we played well at times," tight end Todd Heap said. "I think we learned a lot about ourselves. It's been a tough year, but we need to find a way to stick together and keep battling. It's not over by a long shot."

Defensively, Baltimore generated two turnovers and limited the Steelers to 261 yards of total offense.

The team that wasn't expected to compete hung in with the defending AFC North champions.

"That's why we don't worry about what people say or people think," quarterback Anthony Wright said. "We came out with an attitude to play as if it was us against the world. We know the true makeup of this team. Who knows? We could finish 11-5."

That defiant, hopeful statement was made in the wake of the Ravens' best overall performance against a winning team. The Ravens have to play Pittsburgh again and face off with first-place Cincinnati (6-2) twice, beginning this Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium.

The Ravens have already lost to Tennessee, Detroit and Chicago along with a season-opening loss to undefeated Indianapolis.

"We matched our passion and intensity with a certain level of execution that maybe we haven't put together compared to the other games we lost," Billick said. "It was painful, but there was a sense of accomplishment to the degree that they stepped up to the challenge.

"You don't give that a lot of credence in pro football because at the end of the day it doesn't add up to much, but I think they felt good about themselves within that context. And they should."

The Ravens haven't made it to the playoffs since 2003 when they won their lone division title, and haven't won a playoff game since the 2001 season.

It doesn't appear likely that trend will be reversed this season, but the team is confident it can generate momentum after a top-notch effort against Pittsburgh.

"We showed our true colors," running back Jamal Lewis said. "It shows that we could be on our way."

There are no such things as moral victories in the NFL, a concept that Billick quickly dismissed in his post-game remarks at Heinz Field.

In a reaction to the players' effort, he gave them Tuesday and Wednesday off to recuperate while the coaches prepare their game plan for the high-scoring Bengals.

"We need the extra time," Billick said. "Our guys are tired and sore, didn't get in until 4 o'clock. We have a big game coming back here at home against a division rival. There's a challenge there.

"Hopefully, we can hold onto it and not be worn out from the week before nor wear ourselves out this week because we're going to have to have the same level of passion and intensity for Cincinnati."

In addition to being a long time contributor to RavensInsider, Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times in Westminster Maryland.

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