Billick makes continuity case: 'I'll be back'

OWINGS MILLS -- The disintegration of the Baltimore Ravens has featured an epic downward spiral defined by a franchise-record losing streak with the latest humiliation inflicted by the reigning Super Bowl champion Indianapolis Colts, but this chaotic season apparently won't cost coach Brian Billick his job.

Despite being mathematically eliminated from playoff contention and assured of a second losing campaign in the past three years, mired in an unprecedented seven-game nosedive and the sole owners of last place in the AFC North following a 44-20 loss Sunday night to the Colts, Billick reiterated Monday that he will continue to coach the Ravens next season.

"I'm going to be back," Billick said with emphasis while discussing the team's bleak outlook.

Although team officials didn't confirm that Billick had been necessarily informed by team owner Steve Bisciotti that he will definitely return and Bisciotti doesn't conduct interviews with reporters during the season, Billick expressed confidence two weeks ago that he wouldn't be fired after being signed to a four-year contract last year that pays him in excess of $5 million annually.

Billick made his case for continuity, noting that the majority of the players are under contract. The Ravens' biggest looming decision is whether to sign Pro Bowl linebacker Terrell Suggs to a lucrative contract extension or make him their franchise player as he's scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent after the season.

"There's going to be change, certainly, but for the most part, the majority of these guys will be back; I'm going to be back," Billick said. "Now, once the season's over, we'll see what happens with regards to them, my staff, myself, and all those other things. But right now you only have the one mindset."

One year removed from a franchise-record 13-3 campaign and a division title, the Ravens (4-9) are in disarray.

And Baltimore is desperate to avoid becoming the first team to lose to the winless Miami Dolphins (0-13) on Sunday in South Florida.

"Misery loves company," Billick said. "You have to remind yourself that you're not the only one, but it doesn't feel that way.

"You feel like you're the only one going through it, but you're not. We're both teams that are desperate for a win. That's going to make it a very heated competition."

The Ravens want no part of sharing the woeful Dolphins' miserable existence.

That's why they don't want to add to their problems with a loss at Miami that could potentially spell ending the season on a 10-game losing streak.

After a five-turnover game against Indianapolis that included three interceptions and one fumble by quarterback Kyle Boller, the defense surrendering its most points since November 1998 and only a touchdown run by backup quarterback Troy Smith blocking the Ravens from matching the most lopsided defeat during Billick's tenure, the sense around the team is that they absolutely have to win this game.

"It's a must-win because if we go down there and lose to a Dolphins team that isn't really as bad as people think they are, it could get really ugly around here," cornerback Corey Ivy said. "We don't want that. We want to keep some kind of sanity around here."

Insanity was the rule against the Colts as Baltimore fell behind by two touchdowns in just six minutes and 30 points by the second quarter against a team it battled competitively in a 15-6 AFC divisional playoff loss 11 months ago.

Billick attributed the breakdowns partly to the long stretch of demanding games, including losses to the San Diego Chargers and the New England Patriots in the previous two games as well as running back Willis McGahee's first-quarter fumble that led to a quick Indianapolis touchdown.

"We didn't compete," wide receiver Derrick Mason said. "In this league, in order to be considered one of the elite teams, you got to do it week in and week out. We showed a level of competitiveness last week. We didn't show it this week. I don't know why.

"As players, you got to be able to get up each and every game regardless of who you're playing and what you're playing for. This one hurts. I think it comes to a point where you should get tired of walking into a locker room with the same look on your face and the same old feeling. As a competitor, you should want it to change."

Yet, it hasn't.

It has been the same or similar dire straits for an aimless team that constantly turns the football over on offense, struggles to stop the deep pass against quality quarterbacks and has demonstrated a self-destructive bent as one of the most penalized squads in the league.

"It just seemed like the levee broke," nose guard Kelly Gregg said after Baltimore allowed Colts quarterback Peyton Manning to deliver four touchdown passes.

Still, Billick disagreed with the presumption that the players quit during the final moments Sunday night.

"I think our guys gave it all they had," he said. "That's always a very subjective thing. No one can ever question the courage of a player. Now, is the energy level there?

"Is the passion there? Is the fight to the end there? That's a tough thing to fight through, particularly under those circumstances, But I don't see anybody on this team not give it their all."

Regardless, the Ravens are behaving like a team that's running on empty.

Is there any gas left in their collective tank? If the Ravens don't win this week, it becomes a question of if they will win another game this season as they travel to play the Seattle Seahawks before concluding this brutal season at home against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

"Anytime you get on a streak like that, it tests you as a team," Billick said. "It tests the confidence the players have in the coaches, themselves and with one another. I don't know about shell-shocked, we're far enough into the season that we know where we're at.

"There's a huge emotional fatigue that teams like us are dealing with right now. You can't let that weigh you down and affect your performance. Don't start chasing ghosts and seeing more than is there. Let's just go beat Miami."

Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.

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