Ravens trying to snap nine-game skid

OWINGS MILLS -- The Baltimore Ravens' dismal season of crisis defined by humiliating losses, debilitating injuries and costly turnovers is mercifully about to end.

As the Ravens (4-11) prepare for Sunday's season finale against the AFC North champion Pittsburgh Steelers (10-5) at M&T Bank Stadium, this is their final opportunity to snap an unprecedented nine-game losing streak that has already set a franchise record one year removed from running away with the division title. By kickoff, it will have been 77 days since the Ravens' last victory, a 22-3 win over the St. Louis Rams on Oct. 14.

"There's not much that you say and it's not something you really focus on in terms of the string," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "You don't. There's nothing you can do about what's happened. You stay focused on the task at hand, whether you're winning or losing.

"That's where they will immediately revert to. Obviously, this is the last game of the season and it carries a little different perspective. But it's a divisional opponent, someone we have a great rivalry with, so that will captivate their interest. I'm sure their preparation coming in will be the same as it has been, which has been good."

The results haven't matched the Ravens' effort, though.

The Ravens are assured of sole possession of last place in the division for the first time since 1997 when Ted Marchibroda was the coach and the team was rebuilding after being transplanted from Cleveland.

The pain of this season isn't uncommon, and Billick has seen the other side of it as a winning coach commiserating with coaching brethren who have found themselves on the other end of the margin. Now, Billick is adjusting to being that other guy, the one whose team is searching for answers.

"We've all kind of been through it, to one degree or another," Billick said. "There's a knowing, there's a nod, a recognition, 'Yeah, brother, I feel your pain, been there. Glad it's you, not me,' that you recognize in this profession."

It's little secret what has primarily plagued the Ravens this season: injuries, turnovers, poor quarterback play and debatable play-calling.

"We are a proud organization that is just having a hard time right now, but we will regroup," offensive coordinator Rick Neuheisel said. Four former Pro Bowl selections are on injured reserve, including: quarterback Steve McNair, defensive end Trevor Pryce, cornerbacks Samari Rolle and Chris McAlister.

And other key figures such as tight end Todd Heap and offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden have also missed significant action.

"It is hard going through a season like this with all of the injuries," safety Ed Reed said. "Guys are getting hurt constantly on the field, but it is something that you have to battle through."

Meanwhile, the turnovers are something the Ravens simply haven't been able to overcome. Nowhere is their decline more obvious than in this critical category.

The Ravens have gone from first to worst in turnover margin, a dramatic swing of 36 turnovers in the wrong direction as they have gone from an NFL-best plus-17 a year ago to minus-19 heading into Sunday's game after losing three fumbles in a 27-6 loss to the Seattle Seahawks. Plus, rookie quarterback Troy Smith had the football swatted out of his hand and there was a botched exchange with fullback Le'Ron McClain.

One of those three fumbles, a controversial one involving running back Mike Anderson, was returned for a touchdown.

"Of course, we had the usual setbacks with turnovers," offensive guard Jason Brown said. "But we still have to have faith and keep fighting."

Twenty-seven of the Ravens' total of 39 turnovers have been converted into points on 14 touchdowns and 13 field goals.

Is there a particular reason why Baltimore is so turnover-prone?

"You go and look at them in the offseason and there are certain things that lead to it," Billick said. "You've got a very stark contrast between 2006 and 2007. You can dissect any number of different things, as most people will. Look at the turnovers, period. You do that with any team and you pretty much have the answer to your season. You wouldn't have to look much beyond that.

"Now, what leads to that, why, whether you lack getting turnovers, why you're turning the ball over, whether it's physical for your runner or a mistake throwing into coverage, not protecting the ball, all those things. Those are the things you address constantly. We'll identify those and mark them and chronicle them and present them to the team at the appropriate time, but there will be any number of reasons for it."

Voluminous research aside, the Ravens are facing a grim reality regardless of the reasons for their unenviable situation.

The Steelers game represents the Ravens' last chance to avoid the dim prospect of a bitter offseason spent dwelling on a potential 10 consecutive defeats. Steelers coach Mike Tomlin did acknowledge this week that he might consider resting several starters, including quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who threw five touchdown passes in a 38-7 victory over Baltimore earlier this season.

"The thing is that you can't give up," cornerback David Pittman said. "That's exactly what we have taken from this is because we are still fighting hard. You can't have that quit in you."

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

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