Before heading into a mandatory team meeting yesterday, Ravens return specialist B.J. Sams wasn't quite sure of his standing.
Sams, coming off a game in which he fumbled away a crucial punt that led to a touchdown in the Cincinnati Bengals' 27-26 win over the Ravens, admitted to being somewhat unnerved about whether he would continue to be the primary returner for the last quarter of the season.
Less than an hour later, though, Ravens coach Brian Billick put any fears of a benching to rest. Billick said that Sams will return punts and kickoffs and that the team has not lost faith in the undersized rookie.
"We have a lot of confidence in B.J.," Billick said. "No one feels worse about it than B.J. and very likely puts that [loss] totally on his shoulders. That's not the way this team looks at it. We have every confidence in him that he will continue to be our kickoff returner and punt returner."
It was Sams' fifth fumble this season, and the second one he has lost. Last year's return specialist, Lamont Brightful, who wasn't retained primarily because of his fumbling problems, fumbled twice and lost just one last season.
In all, Brightful had five fumbles in his two-year stint with the Ravens, the same number Sams has in 12 games. Sams has 45 punt returns and 46 kickoff returns, and three of his fumbles have come over the past four games.
"B.J. Sams and [receiver] Clarence Moore now understand what that rookie wall is," Billick said. "They both have hit that point in the season that rookies do that that concept is very real to them. It doesn't change anything. They have to perform because they are a big part of what we're going to do. They understand that. We as coaches have to account for that and help them all we can.
"They have had a prominent role as rookies, and they truly understand what [the rookie wall] is."
Sams' role may lighten some with the return of Deion Sanders, who is expected to come back in the next few weeks from a toe injury that has kept him sidelined the past four games. Sanders is an experienced punt returner.
"I'm worried because I don't know what [the coaches] expect," Sams said.
Billick mum on R. Lewis
Linebacker Ray Lewis was quoted as saying Sunday's game was a "gut check for anybody who didn't put their heart in the game."
Billick dismissed the relevance of the comment.
"I don't know that he said that, and I'm not going to address it," Billick said. "I got no indication of that from Ray. Sure there was frustration, but in the way you might be intimating, I don't think that it was meant that way."
Fassel removes his name
Ravens senior offensive consultant Jim Fassel has officially removed himself from consideration for college openings.
Stanford was rumored to have had an interest in Fassel, and Notre Dame joined the fray yesterday. Fassel, though, is holding out for one of at least three NFL jobs that figure to open up at the end of the season.
"It's flattering to have my name associated with elite and very special collegiate football programs," Fassel said in a statement. "However, my intention is to return to the NFL as a head coach next season. My passion is to help a franchise go to and win a Super Bowl.
"I have no plans to pursue or accept a college job this year."
Billick denies conservatism
Billick denied his offense grew conservative in the fourth quarter against the Bengals when he ran a draw on a third-and-nine to Chester Taylor to set up a field goal, and when he ran again on the next drive on third down with the Ravens in field-goal range and less than two minutes left. That play, however, was nullified because of a holding penalty, and the Ravens threw an incomplete pass the next play.
The Bengals followed both of the Ravens' successful field goals with a touchdown and a field goal, respectively.
"Very rarely do we call plays to position for a field goal," Billick said. "You try to get more. There is a balance between being prudent and leaving yourself vulnerable for the ultimate goal, which is to score and put yourself in the lead, and being aggressive and taking a shot. That's not to say that you are playing conservatively just for a field goal."
The Ravens will face the Manning brothers in successive weeks, the first team this season to get a back-to-back dose of the former No. 1 overall draft picks as starters.
Asked the difference between the New York Giants' Eli Manning (2004), whom the Ravens will see Sunday, and the Indianapolis Colts' Peyton Manning (1998), Billick said, "Certainly the older one has about 44 touchdowns right now. That's pretty distinguishing.
"I really haven't seen the Giants much. My view of Eli revolves around preseason and getting ready for the draft, so it's probably not fair to comment on how far he's come. They are obviously a very special pair."