THE MOOD IN the Ravens' locker room two weeks ago, after losing to the Patriots, reflected a disconnect with reality. The mood last week was dictated by a slap back into reality. Yesterday, though, the Ravens showed their connection with reality is just fine.
The players were as fully aware of what they had just done as everyone else in M&T; Bank Stadium was. They beat up on a bad team, one that resembles next week's opponent in exactly two ways: They wear helmets and cleats, and they start a guy named Manning at quarterback.
So any joy they felt in brutally and mercilessly flogging the Giants, they kept to themselves. Any relief generated by stomping on the Giants' neck and never letting up, was tempered by the fact that as soon as the final gun sounded, their one-game exhibition breather was over, and Indy Week had begun.
"It's the 24-hour rule. Enjoy it and move on," said linebacker Ray Lewis, beginning and wrapping up his postgame comments quicker than usual. Even with that, he and his teammates were violating the rule. Twenty-four hours? The Ravens might have celebrated this for 24 seconds.
Ravens coach Brian Billick said the locker room was "a little subdued" immediately afterward, and that's the scene that greeted reporters later: cheerier than the grim scene following last week's fourth-quarter collapse against Cincinnati, but not much cheerier.
"All focused on Indianapolis and focused on next week," said safety Ed Reed, as subdued as he has ever been after a game featuring both a win and another interception. "No time to rest, no time to savor it. We have to focus on this; no time to lose. It's a must-win from here on out."
Reed paused briefly, then added, "Hopefully that's the attitude. Maybe guys weren't satisfied with what happened out there today."
In an abstract sense, the Ravens did lots of satisfying things. But in proper context, they knew what was going on. If the NFL played by BCS rules, this win would have actually hurt the Ravens, because the Giants at this point are strictly I-AA. You have to wonder if Giants coach Tom Coughlin had a better roster with the expansion Jaguars, or even at Boston College.
The football gods smiled on the Ravens yesterday. They finally had the players together as they'd intended in training camp, the schedule served up a patsy for them to warm up on, and a handful of the AFC wild-card competition tripped up. They can't count on things coming together that seamlessly any more this season, even in the finale against the Dolphins.
In that sense, it was good for the Ravens to pile on the Giants - and, for that matter, to keep trying to pile on them, as it appeared they did when they kept throwing the ball deep with a 30-point lead in the fourth quarter. They didn't have to impress the pollsters, but they did have to impress themselves. Particularly the defense, which was pretty testy after the Bengals game and throughout the week, at least when the cameras and notebooks were around.
"I think after last week, guys wanted to get that taste out of their mouths," quarterback Kyle Boller said. "I think they wanted to get after those guys, get after them as quick as they could and kind of make a statement."
It sounded as if Boller was talking about the defense that coughed it up last week, except that his own offense fit the description, too. Even against the most token of opposition constantly protecting a short field, it was refreshing to see the offense score touchdowns instead of laying up for field goals. For once, they didn't rely on the Rockettes' package when they neared the red zone: one, two, three, kick.
That is one lesson that might carry over to next week, since the Colts' defense consists of many of the same sieve-like properties as the Giants'.
Yet there still is the most obvious difference between the Giants and Colts. So the Ravens' defense couldn't have derived much satisfaction from grinding Eli Manning into a fine powder and sprinkling him on various parts of the field. Most of the time, you didn't know whether to laugh at him or cry for him. (The vote here: laugh at him. The man finished with a 0.0 passer rating. During one time out, he tried to drink some Gatorade, but it was intercepted before it got to his mouth. Peyton couldn't have looked this bad early in his career, even in Pee-Wee ball.)
The Ravens chose a third option, to not dwell on him. It'll be a long time before they make another quarterback look so amateurish, even as dominant as they are. And they're not even deluded enough to think it'll happen against Big Brother.
"I think this team is so hungry now," said cornerback Gary Baxter - hardly exuberant even though he got his first pick of the season - "we're just looking forward to next week."
Repeat any portion of this next week? Now that would be worth celebrating.