Ravens On The Upswing

OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- A case of déjà vu has surrounded the Baltimore Ravens ever since last week, one that doesn't involve road woes, red-zone failure or major injuries.

A growing majority of the Ravens' fan base, at least the outspoken ones that call into sports-talk radio programs and post their opinions on the Internet, sound convinced that this team is headed to another Super Bowl.

That's what a dominant 27-0 victory over the defending NFC South champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers has done to change the climate around a team that hasn't made the playoffs in two years and has won only one playoff game (2001) since claiming the Vince Lombardi trophy after the 2000 season.

Heading into sunday's sold-out home opener at M&T Bank Stadium against the dysfunctional, winless Oakland Raiders, the Ravens are trying not to get ahead of themselves. "Even in 2000, we took the same approach," said middle linebacker Ray Lewis, who resembled his old fiery self with 10 tackles and a sack and was named the AFC Defensive Player of the Week. "We took it one game at a time, we let everybody write what they wanted to write because we weren't even picked to win one game that year. Our focus now is to go ahead and just do what we do, play exactly the way we played and not change anything."

One change that could be in the offing about gameday is the much-debated decision to pull Lewis' trademark, gyrating dance. Team officials have acknowledged that they've heard a groundswell of support to bring back the individual introductions that featured Lewis' "Squirrel" dance. There's a possibility that the offense will be introduced first, so new quarterback Steve McNair can be recognized and that Lewis might be able to put on his dancing shoes again as the last player headed out of the tunnel.

"That's a passion for the game and I love it, the fact that they're interested," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "I think that it's great. Everybody's got an opinion and everybody's passionate about it. I think everybody's looking forward to Sunday."

The Ravens have 83 consecutive sell-outs, and the game can be seen on television on the CBS affiliate (WJZ-13) or heard locally on the radio at WTTR (AM-1470).

The Ravens broke an 11-game road losing streak, the longest in the league, last week. Now, they're back in a more familiar environment where they went 6-2 last season on their way to a 6-10 campaign.

"It's important because last week on the road we had to rely on each other for the energy," linebacker Bart Scott said. "Now we can rely on each other, but we can also get that second boost from the 12th man."

For those that do plan to attend or tailgate before kickoff, cornerback Chris McAlister delivered a special request. "We know you guys are going to be out there getting cranked up for us, but don't tailgate too much," he said. "We need you in the fourth quarter. It should be very fun to come out with this crowd here."

Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times in Westminster, Maryland.

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