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Shirts and Skins

Winning Ugly

By Eddie Matz | Posted 11/5/2003

The weather at M&T Bank Stadium on Sunday might have been a bit unusual, but the football was all too usual. With temperatures hovering near the 80-degree mark for most of the afternoon, rookie quarterback Kyle Boller threw an interception deep in enemy territory and coughed up a fumble deep in his own territory. Fullback Alan Ricard dropped a couple of passes that appeared to be right in his hands, including a short third-and-six toss late in the fourth quarter that could've helped seal the game. Fortunately, a last-minute interception by All Milky Way linebacker Ray Lewis did seal the game, but only after the hapless Jacksonville Jaguars almost made the Ravens' two-touchdown lead disappear in the blink of an eye. Final score: Good guys 24, bad guys 17. As usual, it wasn't pretty, but it was just good enough to get the job done.

All day long, Lewis seemed to be in 14 different places at the same time, recording 14 tackles and a forced fumble in addition to his late-game interception. This we've come to expect. The Ravens defense as a whole tallied four sacks and four forced fumbles and, with the exception of a three-minute span late in the game when the prevent defense prevented them from playing aggressively, generally intimidated and harassed the opposing team from beginning to end. This we've come to expect, too.

One thing we haven't come to expect is the other Lewis--running back Jamal Lewis--being contained. Although the NFL's leading rusher came into Sunday's game having posted six consecutive 100-yard games, the Jaguars were able to hold him to just 68 yards on 21 carries. The good news is that, despite his relative ineffectiveness, the Ravens were still able to come out on top.

It's no secret that as Jamal Lewis goes, so go the Ravens. Heading into the Jacksonville game, he was averaging 173 yards per game in Baltimore's four wins, but only 75 yards per game in their three losses. So the fact that they were able to improve to 5-3 on a day when he rushed for his lowest single-game total of the season is surprising to say the least. Then again, it was the Jaguars.

In case you're not familiar, they're also known as the 1-7 Jaguars, whose only win came at home against the also 1-7 San Diego Chargers. They've got both a rookie coach (former Ravens staffer Jack Del Rio) and a rookie quarterback (Byron Leftwich) leading them through the darkness. Suffice it to say, the Jags aren't good. Whether Jamal Lewis rushes for 68 yards or 168 yards or 268 yards (don't laugh--remember that he set the NFL single-game record several weeks back with 295 yards), the Ravens should be able to beat Jacksonville. And they did. But 24-17 is way too close of a contest, especially considering that the Jaguars were 31 yards away from sending the thing into overtime.

Sure, a win is a win, but playoff caliber teams are supposed to abuse 1-7 teams. Especially at home. These are the kinds of games that are supposed to send a message to the rest of the league. Something along the lines of, "If you think we're going to be happy just winning our division, you're sadly mistaken--we won't be happy until we're shampooing with Champagne in Houston come February." For example, a couple weeks ago, the surprising Dallas Cowboys and their 4-1 record marched into Detroit and kicked the ever-loving bejesus out of the 1-4 Lions, who were coming off a bye week no less. Final score: Cowboys 38, Lions 7. That, gentle reader, was a message sender. The Ravens 24-17 squeaker over the Jaguars? That was a message sender, too. Something along the lines of, "We're nowhere near as good as a division-leading team should be."

Halfway through the 2003 NFL season, the Ravens are 5-3, but don't be fooled. Four of their five wins have come against the Browns, Chargers, Cardinals, and Jaguars--teams with a pathetic combined record of 8-24--with the other win coming against a Denver Broncos squad that was down to its third-string quarterback. Not exactly a schedule to brag about. Even more worrisome is that two of Baltimore's three losses came to the Steelers, who are just 2-6, and the Bengals, who are 3-5.

In stark contrast, over the next four weeks Baltimore takes on St. Louis, Miami, Seattle, and San Francisco, four teams with a combined record of 20-13. Simply put, the easy part of the season is over. The very real possibility exists that a month from now the Ravens could find themselves 5-7 and gasping for postseason air.

Certainly, they can't afford any more 68-yard games from Jamal Lewis. Not against the big boys. Same goes for costly turnovers and dropped passes. In other words, they can't play like they did against Jacksonville. From here on out, just good enough won't be good enough.

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