Ravens looking to play spoiler role

OWINGS MILLS -- In a football season that has curdled like bad milk, the Baltimore Ravens are enduring a major scoring drought, contract squabbles and public debate over who should and shouldn't be fired. It's essentially uncharted territory for a team that's traditionally in the thick of the AFC North title hunt, but has plummeted into last place. Now, the Ravens (2-7) are looking to spoil the enviable situation of the Pittsburgh Steelers (7-2) today at M&T Bank Stadium.

Mired in a four-game losing streak and off to the worst start in franchise history, the Ravens are trying to avoid their 12th loss in their last 16 games.

"We could play the role of the spoiler for the rest of the season," cornerback Chris McAlister said. "Everybody looks at us and, at this point, they pretty much move past us in the season. They think that we're not a team that they have to worry about.

"It will be our joy and our happiness to go out and beat the teams that think they can come in here and dominate us."

With no playoff berth to pursue despite 15 former Pro Bowl selections, this underachieving outfit is playing for pride and self-preservation in the final seven games.

It's an epic fall for a team forecast as a potential Super Bowl darkhorse, and it's been predictably hard to stomach in the locker room and the boardroom. It has been a full year since the Ravens last defeated a team with a winning record.

"You've got to look ahead and think about some positive things we can do from here on out to salvage the season, meaning having a winning season," wide receiver Derrick Mason said despite impending games against Pittsburgh, Cincinnati (7-2) and Denver (7-2). "Playoffs, I think that's not really what we should be thinking about right now. What we should be thinking of is regrouping as a team and playing some good football."

Whether it's Ravens coach Brian Billick being besieged with questions about if he'll be fired by owner Steve Bisciotti or a dismal offense that ranks last in the league in scoring (11.1 points per game), it's been a season of disconent.

Safety Ed Reed is due for a lucrative contract and running back Jamal Lewis is wondering if he'll be assigned the franchise tag, given a new deal or be discarded. Nowadays at One Winning Drive, motivation has become even more critical.

"It's a matter of the mindset you want to take with it," Billick said. "If you want to feel sorry for yourself, it's going to be a tough time.

"You keep that stuff at arm's length and you go about your job. These guys have done that very, very well. It's frustrating, make no doubt about it."

Especially confounding is an offense that hasn't scored a touchdown in 11 quarters with one in its past 19 quarters for a span of 166 minutes and 54 seconds and 30 drives without crossing the goal line. During the 2000 season capped with a Super Bowl title, the Ravens had a string of 60 drives and 322 minutes of scoreboard time without a touchdown.

"If the comment is, ‘Geez, you need a new system,' I'm at a little bit of a loss to have explained what exactly that means unless you're talking about, ‘By God, come out and let's do the wishbone,'" Billick quipped. "That would be dramatic."

For embattled quarterback Kyle Boller, who's auditioning for his future in Baltimore, this will be his first home game since hurting his toe in the season opener. Some fans cheered while he was on the ground in pain two months ago, and he hasn't forgotten.

"It's my job to put points on the board, and I have to get my job done," said Boller, who has a 44.0 passer rating and four interceptions in two starts.

With starting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger out with a knee injury, Tommy Maddox will start. With Maddox throwing three interceptions and fumbling in a loss to Jacksonville, he'll probably rely heavily on the Steelers' powerful running backs. Pittsburgh has won 11 consecutive road games dating back to a Sept., 2004 loss in Baltimore.

"There's no secret to their success: They're going to run the ball and pound it down our throats," linebacker Bart Scott said. "We just have to bring a physical, nasty attitude to the field."

Although he may not play due to a back injury incurred in a car accident, offensive tackle Orlando Brown seemed to capture the mood this week in a profanity-laced rant.

"Right now we've got a bloody nose, teeth knocked out, but I'm going to keep fighting," Brown said. "If I can bring some guys along that need to be motivated, I'm going to do that, too."

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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