Ravens control their destiny, sort of

Because of the Baltimore Ravens' unexpected circumstances, Brian Billick occasionally halts his meetings to remind his football team of their past. Billick will ask veterans of the Super Bowl team, a smallish number with such a youthful roster, to stand up. It's that time of year as the upstart Ravens are in the midst of a potential bid for the AFC North crown.

"There's still a substantial number of guys there, coaches and players, enough in essence to say, "Guys, follow their lead,'" Billick said at his Monday press conference following the Ravens' 23-19 victory over the Houston Texans. "They know what this is about. These guys have lived through the Decembers, the playoff runs. They saw what it was like, and that's a resource that we're going to have to tap into."

The situation is quite simple for the Ravens with postseason scenarios that don't require the aid of advanced mathematical formulas. If the Ravens (7-7) are able to defeat the Cleveland Browns on Sunday at Ravens Stadium, that would complete only one part of the job.

 Couple that victory with first-place Pittsburgh Steelers' loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Monday night and that would set up a showdown between the Ravens and the Steelers on Dec. 29 in Pittsburgh. The Ravens' regular-season finale would then decide who would represent the division in the playoffs.

With the league's permission, the Ravens actually began mailing out playoff information to personal-seat license holders on Monday with the remainder of the tickets becoming available to the general public on Jan. 2. If the Ravens manage to win their last two games and receive assistance from the Steelers, they would host a playoff game either Jan. 4 of Jan. 5.

"This is a playoff atmosphere," said Billick, whose team lost to the Steelers in the AFC divisional playoff game to close out last season. "That's a learning curve for these guys, either now or in the future, that's absolutely invaluable. "This is a very special group and I'm very proud of them. They have grown up very quick. They don't blink. They just go to work."

Even the chronically optimistic Billick didn't envision what has happened. Not even before the season-ending injuries to linebacker Ray Lewis, defensive end Michael McCrary and wide receiver Brandon Stokley as well as the troublesome back condition of his opening-day quarterback Chris Redman. The Ravens are actually viable contenders because of, not in spite of, the presence of 17 rookies and first-year players. The roster has an average age of 25.3 years, an average NFL experience of 3.36 years. Billick definitely qualifies as surprised.

 "You've got to be," Billick said, "Particularly, in light of the injuries we've had. For these guys not to blink, not to panic, is huge."

Because of the timing of the Ravens' upcoming game with the Steelers competing the next day against the Buccaneers, it crystallizes the Ravens' focus on the Browns, Billick said.

Meanwhile, Billick reiterated again that Jeff Blake will remain the Ravens' quarterback for the final two games. Blake's one-year contract expires after the season and the Ravens haven't defined their future plans publicly regarding him and Redman.

Following his best statistical performance of the season against the Texans when he completed 18 of 30 passes for 228 yards, two touchdowns and no sacks, Blake has cemented his starting status. At least, for now.

"He is our guy now, and we are in the heat of a playoff battle," Billick said of Blake, who has passed for 1,605 yards, 10 touchdowns and eight interceptions with a quarterback rating of 74.8. "To talk about the 2004, 2004 and 2005 seasons, we will talk about that in due time. We are excited about where we are now and Jeff is a big part of that."

 Browns quarterback Tim Couch is extremely reliant on audibles at the line to check off to play-action passes set up by rookie William Green's running to find receivers Kevin Johnson, Dennis Northcutt and Andre Davis. Billick challenged the Ravens' fan base to amplify their volume Sunday to disrupt the Browns.

"We need to create an energy, a playoff energy," Billick said. "We need to make this an impossible place for Cleveland, and anyone who comes in here."

NOTES: Billick awarded game balls to Blake for offense, to end Adalius Thomas for defense and to linebacker Bart Scott for special teams. … Billick said he will continue to rotate young receivers Randy Hymes, Milton Wynn and Ron Johnson after Hymes overtook Johnson in the starting lineup against the Texans because of Johnson's shaky hands. … Billick said he expects Texans safety Matt Stevens to be fined for his devastating hit on tight end Terry Jones. "It was legal, but it will be fined from the standpoint that Terry did establish both feet on the ground," Billick said. "The guy did lead with his head. I don't think that was malicious. I just think that he was trying to knock the ball out, but I do think he will be fined."


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