Sams' injury leaves special teams at quandary

CINCINNATI -- Now that return specialist B.J. Sams is out for the season with a broken right fibula, the Baltimore Ravens' special teams are suddenly at a crossroads.

By losing Sams in a 13-7 loss Thursday night to the Cincinnati Bengals after he was tackled by Kenny Watson following a 20-yard kickoff return in the second quarter, the Ravens find themselves bereft of an electrifying return man ranked fifth in the NFL in kickoff return average and seventh in punt return average.
"Huge, huge, you're talking about one of the great return guys in the game right now," Billick said of the impact of subtracting Sams from the lineup. "But like every team, the next guy's got to step up, and we'll adapt."
Nickel back Corey Ivy was thrown into action and fumbled one punt, returning two others for seven yards.
Afterward, Ivy declined an interview request. Backup running back Musa Smith returned one kickoff for 27 yards, and Ivy returned another 14 yards.
Potential job candidates on the roster include 5-foot-6, 200-pound rookie running back Cory Ross, a quick undrafted free agent from Nebraska who's listed as Sams' primary backup on kickoff and punt returns on the depth chart.
Wide receiver Mark Clayton demonstrated promise as a return specialist at the University of Oklahoma, but might be too valuable as a starter on offense to risk getting injured on special teams.
With Sams out of the equation, special teams coordinator Frank Gansz has a lot to think over prior to the Ravens' next game Dec. 10 against his former team, the Kansas City Chiefs.
"Coach [Gansz] is going to make his decision," said Clayton, who's listed as third on the depth chart on punt and kickoff returns. "I asked him and he was like, ‘You're all right.' So, it was cool."
QUICK HITS: Fullback Justin Green was scheduled to undergo a magnetic resonance imaging exam Friday to determine the damage to his sprained right knee suffered in the third quarter on special teams. He was on crutches in the locker room afterward with a wrap around his leg. Green said he was uncertain how long he might be out. … The Ravens will have a long time to reflect on this loss and try to rectify their mistakes since Billick gave the players off of practice until Wednesday. "We just have to correct our mistakes and get ready to come back against a good Kansas City team," running back Jamal Lewis said. … The Ravens' second-ranked defense only sacked Carson Palmer twice and he didn't thrown an interception after tossing two in the previous meeting, a 26-20 win for Baltimore at M&T Bank Stadium. "This is a talented, talented offensive team," Billick said. "Yeah, we gave up some things. I thought on the whole we played very well." … Palmer completed 21 of 32 passes for 234 yards and a touchdown pass on a flea-flicker to T.J. Houshmandzadeh. Cornerback Chris McAlister aggressively responded to a handoff to running back Rudi Johnson on the play, and safety Ed Reed trailed Houshmandzadeh and couldn't catch up. When asked if Reed was overly aggressive on the play, Houshmandzadeh replied: "He is an aggressive safety, and it was the right call at the right time. It was the coverage we wanted, and it worked out." … The Ravens didn't allow a sack, but quarterback Steve McNair didn't always have ideal passing lanes or sufficient time to locate his receivers. "We knew who they were," right tackle Tony Pashos said. "It was a tough night across the board. One game isn't going to define us. This team has never given up." McAlister offered a prediction on how the team will respond to the setback, which caused the Ravens to lose their grip on the No. 2 AFC playoff seed and a potential first-round bye in the playoffs They're a half-game behind the San Diego Chargers and a half-game ahead of the New England Patriots while still holding a two-game lead over the Bengals in the division. "We'll respond the way we always have, the way we did when we lost two in a row and then won five in a row," McAlister said. "It's a matter of executing next week against Kansas City."
Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times in Westminster, Maryland.

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