A win is nice, but 2 in a row would be feat


A win is a win. Even when you're 2-for-13 on third down.

A win is a win. Even when you throw three interceptions, allow four sacks and commit eight penalties.

A win is a win. Even when you need to run out the clock to beat the expansion Cleveland Browns, 17-10.

"It's a start!" assistant coach Earnest Byner kept hollering yesterday as the Ravens ran into their locker room.

Well, it's certainly better than 0-3.

"Imagine where we're at if we don't win this game," offensive tackle Harry Swayne said. "We might be the laughingstock of the league."

They also might be on their way out of town, stuffed into Mayflower vans by the good people of Baltimore, destination anywhere.

"0-3, that would have been absolutely horrible," defensive end Michael McCrary said. "We needed this. This game proves we're capable of winning."

And the next game in Atlanta will show whether the Ravens are capable of becoming respectable, or if yesterday was merely another sign that they're a long way off.

There is ample evidence to support the latter theory, but as coach Brian Billick said after his first NFL victory, "You never, ever, diminish a win."

Not when you're 17-33-1 in four seasons, including 7-19 against the AFC Central. Not when botched snaps and untimely penalties and quarterback concerns are your way of life.

"It's never easy," McCrary said. "But you know what? I'll take the win. I don't care how we got it. It would be nice if it was easy. But that's not our history."

No, their history is to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. And lest anyone forget, their history is that they can't stand success.

Only three times have the Ravens won two straight games, and only once has it happened before November.

The Atlanta game, then, looms as a considerable test.

The Ravens are only 5-20 on the road, but the defending NFC champion Falcons will be without quarterback Chris Chandler and running back Jamal Anderson, and they've been outscored in their three losses, 76-28.

The game is winnable.

But the defense needs to extend its dominance. Quarterback Stoney Case needs to avoid mistakes. And Billick needs to stop being cute at inopportune times.

No one wants to see a return to Marchibroda football, but Errict Rhett has produced back-to-back 100-yard games averaging 4.9 yards a carry. With that type of ground game, why bother with fancy formations and trick plays?

"I think we've got an offensive line where people have to put an extra man down in the box," left tackle Jonathan Ogden said. "If they try to take us man for man they're going to lose because Errict's going to run hard and we're going to move people.

"If we can keep pushing people around up front, keep the running going, then hit 'em with some play-action and try to set 'em up. I like the way our game plan worked today, a lot of short passes. Turnovers and penalties are what stopped us. If we can eliminate those, we'll be all right."

Perhaps, but turnovers seem almost inevitable -- the Ravens have committed 34 in their last 14 games, including three yesterday against a team that hadn't recorded a takeaway in its first two games.

Billick is right when he says, "The answer is not simply to run on first, run on second, throw on third." But there's a happy medium between being too predictable and too creative.

Two of the Browns' four sacks resulted from Billick excesses. The first was a failed flea flicker after a 27-yard completion to Charles Evans in the first quarter. The second came after the Ravens lined up with four wide receivers and no running backs on third-and-one early in the third quarter.

Billick's most questionable decision, however, was ordering Case to run out of the shotgun on third-and-three at the Cleveland 13 with just over six minutes left and the Ravens needing only a field goal to put the game away.

Center Jeff Mitchell snapped the ball over Case's head for a 22-yard loss, and the Ravens were forced to punt.

Why go back to the shotgun three plays after Case had to pull down a high snap from Mitchell to complete a third-and-seven pass to Jermaine Lewis for a first down?

Why not just run Rhett or even Evans out of a standard formation, and settle for the field goal if necessary?

"How many yards did Stoney have running today?" Billick asked in his postgame news conference, knowing Case had rushed 11 times for 57 yards.

Not more than Rhett, the coach was told.

"Good point, good point," Billick said, smiling as he went on to explain halfheartedly, "They might be keying on Rhett."

Hey, it was only Billick's third game as an NFL head coach. Maybe he got away with such stunts in Minnesota. And he does seem to be developing a better feel for his talent.

"The fact we're running the ball the way we are, they may rescind my degree from BYU and the time I spent at Stanford," Billick said, joking.

The Ravens finished with 37 runs and 25 passes, with Case rushing for both their touchdowns. The defense recorded four sacks, recovered a fumble on the Cleveland 1 and intercepted Tim Couch on the Browns' final possession.

A win is a win.

The trick now is for the Ravens to build on it.

3rd down and out

The Ravens' offense has stumbled badly on third downs this year:

Opponent 3rd downs Pct.

at St. Louis 4-for-14 28.6

Pittsburgh 2-for-13 15.4

Cleveland 2-for-13 15.4

Total 8-for-40 20.0

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