Ravens can't look down on Houston Texans

OWINGS MILLS -- There's no room for snobbery in the Baltimore Ravens' world. Not even when they're playing the worst football team in the league Sunday with the Houston Texans at M&T Bank Stadium.

Not after a dismal season that qualifies the last-place Ravens (3-8) to draft anywhere between fifth and eighth overall in the NFL draft based on their current standing.

Even the lowly Texans' presence in town isn't cause for celebration. The realistic possibility of losing to the 1-10 Texans gives the Ravens pause and perspective.

There's been little in the way of bravado at the Ravens' training complex this week despite being installed as an eight-point favorite. A season that began with Super Bowl aspirations has been a humbling, sobering experience.

"Any team can beat you on any Sunday," said cornerback Samari Rolle, whose team owns wins over the New York Jets (2-9), Cleveland Browns (4-7) and Pittsburgh Steelers (7-4). "We're 3-8, so we can't be looking down on anybody."

With no possibility of a playoff berth or a winning season, the Ravens are trying to salvage a .500 record out of their remaining five games and protect job security.

A loss to the Texans would only do more damage to the cause of embattled Ravens coach Brian Billick and oft-criticized quarterback Kyle Boller.

That's probably why Billick dismissed the out-of-touch suggestion raised by many fans that the Ravens would be better off losing this game so they can pick higher in the draft.

"Are those the ones booing on Sunday if we're not doing so well," Billick said. "I hope they remember that. I understand that. There's talk about that in the league right now.

"I don't believe that come Sunday, in those three hours, that they want that to happen. Maybe afterwards you can intellectualize a little bit, but I don't believe that there's going to be a soul in that stadium that isn't fired up to go out and get a win on Sunday."

One major reason why Baltimore fans with visions of USC stars Reggie Bush and Matt Leinart in their dreams might ultimately be disappointed Sunday is the Texans' suspect offensive line.

They've allowed quarterback David Carr to be sacked a league-high 50 times. He's been beaten up more than a Texas rodeo clown in being sacked 194 times in four seasons.

With the secondary especially vulnerable with safety Will Demps out for the season with a knee injury, cornerback Chris McAlister a game-time decision with a hamstring problem and safety Ed Reed returning on a limited basis after missing six games with a high-ankle sprain, it's imperative that the Ravens exploit this advantage.

Although the pass rush has slowed down considerably since a revival two weeks ago in an overtime win over the Pittsburgh Steelers, this is an occasion where the Ravens may have a clear edge.

"It's more important this week than it's ever been because we got a lot of guys down," said outside linebacker Terrell Suggs, who has been held to two sacks after registering 22 ½ in his first 32 games with Baltimore. "We got to turn it up. It's that simple."

It's clear that Boller needs to get energized, too.

With Boller under contract through 2007, at the very least the Ravens are likely to supplement the quarterback position in the offseason with a veteran to compete with the 2003 first-round draft pick. It's also possible that Boller could be dismissed if he doesn't settle down to close the season.

"It's been an interesting year," said Boller, the lowest-rated starter in the NFL. "I try to do the best that I can."

Boller has thrown seven interceptions, and delivered three of his total of four touchdown passes in the second half of last week's 42-29 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals. Prior to that half, he had one less touchdown pass than San Diego Chargers running back LaDainian Tomlinson's total of three.

"We have a lot of faith in Kyle Boller, and I think what he went through in Cincinnati when it's all said and done, we may look back over time and say, ‘Yes, that was a watershed moment,'" Billick said. "He was standing at the abyss and was either going to fall in or say, ‘Screw it, I'm either going to thrown another interception or another touchdown, one or the other.' He fought back through it."

For the Ravens, how they compete Sunday represents a conscious choice.

Either fight to the end despite the lowered stakes, or quit. It's clear that a collapse against the Texans would be a blemish on their resume.

"You don't want to be that one team that a 1-10 team beats," Suggs said. "We ain't underestimating them."

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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