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Ravens talk well, play well

It hasn't been pretty, but given their nine-game winning streak it'd be hard to bet against them.

By JOHN ROMANO

© St. Petersburg Times, published January 9, 2001


photo
Billick
OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- If the Ravens do not make it to Super Bowl XXXV, it will not be for a lack of preparation. Or confidence.

More than a month ago, when Baltimore was barely on the post-season radar screen, coach Brian Billick drew up a daily schedule that anticipated every hour of work between the end of the regular season and the start of the Super Bowl on Jan.28 at Raymond James Stadium.

Perhaps that makes Billick anal retentive. Surely it makes him a little cocky. And, maybe, it makes him smarter than the rest of the world because he recognized this team had the talent to reach the AFC Championship Game.

"We're pretty good. We're good enough to be where we are right now," Billick said. "And we're never going to apologize for who we are and what we are. We've made it this far because we have character and chemistry."

What they do not have is an offense, although that has not stopped them from beating Denver and Tennessee in the first two rounds of the playoffs.

It does, however, explain why the Ravens went virtually unnoticed before strutting their way past Tennessee at Adelphia Coliseum on Sunday. Few people expected such an offensively challenged team to reach the NFL's final four.

As a former offensive coordinator, even Billick is prone to cringe at the lack of firepower in Baltimore's offensive huddle. But as a coach, he readily embraces this bland, by-the-numbers offense that is willing to play second fiddle to the NFL's best defense.

The Ravens were beaten in nearly every statistical category by the Titans on Sunday. They gained fewer yards on the ground, they gained fewer yards in the air, they had fewer first downs and they held the ball less than half as long as Tennessee. The Ravens matched the Titans offense with 10 points, but Baltimore won with touchdowns on defense and special teams.

"That is who we are, so get used to it. That is our personality. The dark side has sucked me in," Billick said. "You can take your numbers and your projections and throw them out because they don't apply to us."

It seems a lot of the normal rules do not apply to the Ravens. They also have ignored NFL protocol when it comes to mouthing off before a game.

Annoyed by what they perceive to be a lack of respect, the Ravens have loudly announced their intentions the past two weeks. The players say it is not trash talking, merely confidence.

"People don't have any idea of what we've been through the last three or four years," linebacker Jamie Sharper said. "We've gone through a lot to get here. We're not talking trash, we're just saying what we feel."

Billick also disputes the notion that the Ravens have been disrespectful of opponents. He acknowledges regret over Chris McAlister's comments last week -- the cornerback suggested Tennessee running back Eddie George was afraid to take a hit -- but said all the other talk has been boasts and not rips.

"If you listen to the comments, it is just showing confidence in their abilities," Billick said. "It's creating an us-against-the-world mentality that is good for a team, even if you have to fabricate a little of it to bring the team closer together."

The odds say the Ravens will not be able to do it again.

Not only are they facing a more balanced Oakland team, they are facing a team that had a bye week followed by an easy victory against Miami. The Ravens, meanwhile, are playing their third playoff game in as many weeks and their second on the road. Not to mention a cross-country trip.

Every indicator points to a Baltimore loss, except for the fact that the Ravens have won nine straight games with this same outfit.

"I can't explain how we win games and I know you can't either," Billick said. "But it's fun trying."

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