'Rag-tag' offense trying to patch together points; Rhett leads group looking to make good on another chance; Notebook


Ravens coach Brian Billick jokingly refers to them as "the dirty dozen." He has called them a collection of talent taken off "the trash heap" of the NFL.

Billick is talking about his offense, which entered last night's game against Kansas City ranked 24th in the NFL, including the 28th-ranked passing game. Specifically, Billick is talking about players like quarterback Stoney Case, wide receivers Qadry Ismail and Justin Armour, running back Errict Rhett and tight end Aaron Pierce.

Case has been a career backup until he found a starting job here. Ismail had not caught a pass since 1996 before signing with the Ravens. Armour has been with four teams in four years and had caught one pass since 1995 before joining Billick. Pierce sat out the 1998 season.

Then there's Rhett, who is resurrecting a career that stalled after 1995 in Tampa Bay, where he had notched his second, 1,000-yard season in two years.

Each player has signed a one-year contract.

"We're kind of the rag-tag, dirty dozen on offense, and we're kind of thriving on it," Billick said. "We got a lot of guys nobody wanted. A lot of them have something to prove. Frankly, it has been a lot of fun to work with them. They're hungry to succeed."

A young 50 for Lewis

Ravens middle linebacker Ray Lewis lined up to play in his 50th career game last night, and what a ride it has been so far for the fourth-year veteran.

Lewis already has two Pro Bowl appearances behind him. His reputation as a relentless tackling machine is fairly secure. Through 49 games, Lewis was averaging 11.8 tackles a game. With 72 tackles coming into last night, Lewis is on pace to surpass his career-high, 210-tackle season of 1997.

"Sometimes I have to remind myself of how young Ray still is," Billick said. "Shoot, he's only 24."

Rhett in the ring

Rhett has been known to wrestle a teammate occasionally. Last year, he went a few rounds with 330-pound guard Jeff Blackshear.

Rhett actually has wrestling experience. He was a state champion at MacArthur High School in Hollywood, Fla.

"I started wrestling at an early age and I think it really helped my football," Rhett said. "It helped my balance. It really helped my blocking because of the leverage in the one-on-one battles. Plus, it made me more aggressive, willing to attack."

McCrary still slowed

Right defensive end Michael McCrary is still not quite right physically. Seven months removed from arthroscopic knee surgery, McCrary said he has had trouble generating maximum push when he tries to power his way past blockers and get to the opposing quarterback.

"I'm just trying to keep working hard to get where I need to be physically," McCrary said. "I'm almost there, but not quite."

Coming into last night's game, McCrary had gone back-to-back games without a sack. That has happened twice since McCrary joined the Ravens in 1997.

Since coming here from Seattle, McCrary has never gone three consecutive games without a sack.

Standing together

The Ravens defense has not allowed more than 14 points in three straight games and are tied for eighth in the NFL in fewest points allowed per game (17.4). In fact, the Ravens defense is ranked in the top ten in seven categories.

The same can't be said about the offense which is ranked No. 24.

But several members of the Ravens defense won't stop playing hard, especially middle linebacker Lewis. He has an amazing 578 tackles in his four-year career.

"Everyone on this team will continue to play hard," said Lewis. "Everyone is focused and there will be no finger pointing."

Stoney on the move

Billick has tried to off-set the pressure on Case by moving him around in the pocket. But Billick said it's no more than usual.

"In the first game he played, Stoney did a lot of moving on his own," said Billick.

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