'You play to tie the game!'

OWINGS MILLS -- Besieged by criticism for opting to kick a field goal to send the game into overtime rather than try to plunge into the end zone on fourth-and-goal, Baltimore Ravens coach Brian Billick defended his controversial decision. Trailing 16-13 with the football at the Miami Dolphins' 1-yard line, Billick had kicker Matt Stover chip in a short field goal with 12 seconds left to tie it.

Yet, the Ravens wound up losing 22-16 to the previously winless Dolphins in overtime Sunday as Stover missed a potential game-winning field goal.

Rationalizing his call a day later, Billick said he felt that Dolphins defensive coordinator Dom Capers would have stacked the line of scrimmage to try to prevent running back Willis McGahee from scoring.

"I know this: had we gone for it, if they could have snuck a 12th man onto the field, all 12 would have been up in the gaps and sold out totally for the run," Billick said. "That's from our analysis. I guarantee it, knowing Dom Capers, that's exactly what they would have done. Not a commentary on us offensively or on the line or the ability to run the ball, but they were going to shove everybody in there."

Several players, including rookie quarterback Troy Smith and McGahee, lobbied hard for Billick to give them a shot at winning the game rather than playing for the tie.

Apparently, that didn't bother Billick.

"I liked that they wanted to go for it," Billick said. "The calculation we made, and in our circumstance, their circumstance, should we have gone for it, who knows?"

Billick said he considered having Smith execute a play-action pass, but opted to stick with his gut instinct.

It would up backfiring on him, though.

"So, a play-action pass would have been good because their calculation would have been, ‘Maybe it's a bad pass, maybe we get it tipped, maybe it's blocked or maybe it's dropped,'" Billick said. "Had we done that after what we had done to get down there and any of those things had happened, I can imagine what the critique would have been about the play call.

"So in a very short, heated time, the comment was, ‘You know what? We've worked hard to get it to this point. We have confidence. We'll go ahead and kick it.' Should we have gone for it? Yeah, certainly, we could have. And they wanted to, and I certainly understood that."

INJURY UPDATE: Middle linebacker Ray Lewis' dislocated finger on his left hand shouldn't prevent him from playing Sunday against the Seattle Seahawks, although he'll likely require a splint to do so.

Lewis had stitches on his finger to stop the bleeding after the bone pierced the skin.

"Ray's finger is very uncomfortable," Billick said. "They think they can do enough things to splint it up and take care of it that he should be available on Sunday."

During his weekly radio show Monday night, Lewis denied broadcast reports that he had a compound fracture and predicted he would continue to play.

"It's better now, I cleaned it out," Lewis said. "It's good, I dealt with it. I believe the way to deal with pain is to recognize it exists. "I'm fine. It came through the skin, that's why it bled so much."

Billick was noncommittal on whether tight end Todd Heap (strained hamstring) or cornerback Samari Rolle (shoulder) would be available Sunday, but emphasized that they weren't imminently going to be placed on injured reserve.

"Until we put them on IR, we're obviously hoping that there's some opportunity to play," Billick said. "They want to. We've had those discussions with them: 'Look, we're at the point in the season, do you want to go on IR?' Neither one of them are at that point.

"They want to play these last two games. So, right now, that's where we'll proceed. Hopefully, both will be available this week, but we won't know until we get into the week."

ACCOUNTABLE: Stover emphasized that it was his fault when he hooked a potential game-winning 44-yard field goal try wide left in overtime even though long snapper Matt Katula's snap appeared to be slightly high, throwing off the timing of the kick.

"The mantra is, every good kick, every bad kick has three parts: the snap, the hold and the kick," Billick said. "Any one of the three can be the reason. Matt would take the heat on himself. I don't know if it was a bad snap or not."

NEUHEISEL UPDATE: Ravens offensive coordinator Rick Neuheisel was interviewed by UCLA athletic director Dan Guerrero on Friday for the Bruins' head-coaching vacancy, and Billick offered another ringing endorsement of his candidacy.

"You would certainly think an alumnus, someone with Rick's caliber or his credentials and what he's done, but to comment on what the selection process is on colleges across the country is hard to understand," Billick said. "Again, being an alumnus, you would think that, and his record, would weigh heavily in their decision." Neuheisel interviewed for the Georgia Tech job that wound up going to former Navy coach Paul Johnson.

PLAYING TIME: Undrafted rookie free agent Willie Gaston leapfrogged former draft picks David Pittman and Derrick Martin on the depth chart against Miami, playing almost the entire game at cornerback opposite Corey Ivy.

For the most part, the former University of Houston starter held up well with the notable exception of an 18-yard pass to Marty Booker in the fourth quarter to open a scoring drive.

"Well, he had earned it in practice, in the way that he's practicing, some of the things that he did," Billick said regarding the decision to play Gaston. "Again, there's always a balance. We're always evaluating and looking at players.

"But we're going to put whatever 11 on the field we can at a given time to try to win the game. We put Willie Gaston on the field because we thought he gave us the best chance to win."

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

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