Ravens' modest goal: a .500 season

OWINGS MILLS -- Motivational ploys tend to dwindle into nothingness for NFL teams that are already out of playoff contention like the Baltimore Ravens. And with the Ravens (4-8) now officially eliminated from any chance of a playoff berth despite a 16-15 win over the Houston Texans, there's little to strive for in the final four games beyond trying to achieve a .500 record: a non-losing season.

That will be a difficult task considering that Baltimore plays the Denver Broncos (9-3) on Sunday at Invesco Field, and the Ravens are 0-6 on the road this season and have lost their last nine road games dating back to a Nov. 14, 2004 win over the Jets at The Meadowlands.

"The hook now is, ‘Let's not have a losing season,'" Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "It's not a really ambitious one. You don't start the season saying, ‘Let's not have a losing season for the Gipper, guys,' but that's where we find ourselves right now."

After the Broncos game, the Ravens host nationally televised contests against the Green Bay Packers and Minnesota Vikings and close out this underachieving campaign on the road against the Cleveland Browns.

"This last game worried me, it really did simply because of all the circumstances of whom you're playing," Billick said. "The next three weeks, you don't have to worry about the emotional edge of your players."

FAIR-CATCH REDUX: After return specialist B.J. Sams opted to call for a fair catch at the 10-yard line with no one within 20 yards of him Sunday, the sideline erupted. Sams insisted that he was following orders, but it appears that he didn't listen closely enough.

"It's regrettable that we didn't communicate it better for B.J.," said Billick, explaining that the fair catch was the option only in the vicinity of the Ravens' 30. "We were telling him, ‘Now make sure under the appropriate situation that you've practiced go ahead and fair-catch it, if it's a short kick.' He lost sight of where he was.

"It's regrettable that he made that mistake. Was he misunderstanding what we were trying to instruct? It kind of got lost in the process."

RUN DEFENSE FALTERS: The Ravens allowed Texans running back Domanick Davis to rush for 155 yards on 29 carries, the fourth-most ever gained against Baltimore.

It's a disturbing trend with the run defense slipping to 12th against the run by surrendering 107.7 rushing yards per contest and consecutive 100-yard rushers with Cincinnati's Rudi Johnson eclipsing the century mark two weeks ago.

"We're a multiple front, we're a little undersized and if you can isolate that, it tends to show up," Billick said. "The vogue thing in the league now is to have two huge people on the inside and we've had success with that in the past. We don't have that size and bulk on the inside to go about it that way, so we have to address it in other ways."

NEUHEISEL WATCH: Ravens quarterbacks coach Rick Neuheisel has been linked with San Diego State as a potential head coach candidate as the Aztecs fired Tom Craft on Monday.

Neuheisel, a former head coach at Washington and Colorado, declined to comment Monday. Former Oregon State and San Francisco 49ers coach Dennis Erickson is another popular name on the college rumor mill.

"I would imagine that Rick's name because of his successes would be at the top of a lot of people's lists," Billick said. "I have not heard from Rick on this regard."

YOU'RE FIRED: Billick was asked several questions about evaluating his assistants and whether he has fired any in his tenure in Baltimore.

Typically, the Ravens have termed the decisions mutual or resignations, including the departures of former offensive coordinator Matt Cavanaugh and offensive line coach Jim Colletto after last season. However, no announcement was made when former defensive assistant Phil Zacharias and receivers coach Milt Jackson left the staff.

"I've made some moves -- it sounds like I'm dancing around it -- but it's the right situation for a coach to maybe pursue something else," Billick said. "That's the best way to go about it as you can, so, yeah, I have been involved with it. It's kind of like minor surgery. It's always surgery on someone else. In this industry, it's hard."

QUICK HIT: Rookie wide receiver Mark Clayton (offense), linebackers Adalius Thomas and Terrell Suggs (defense) and tight end Daniel Wilcox (special teams) received game balls, which earns them better parking spots at the team's training complex.

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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