With the Ravens seemingly moving closer to catastrophe than the playoffs, coach Brian Billick tried to diffuse the distractions swirling around his team yesterday, defending the stability of his locker room and disputing reports that offensive coordinator Matt Cavanaugh has been fired.
Local television stations reported Wednesday that the Ravens will let Cavanaugh go after the season. A team source told The Sun that no decision has been officially made, but Cavanaugh is "unlikely" to return.
"The reports that say Matt Cavanaugh is now fired, that there's a specific timetable to it, are wrong," Billick said.
The Ravens (8-7), who need three teams to lose to reach the postseason, have stumbled on offense all season. They rank 31st in the 32-team NFL heading into Sunday's season finale against the Miami Dolphins.
Cavanaugh declined to comment while walking off the practice field.
Billick, whose contract specifies that he has the final say in the hiring and firing of coaches, continued to sidestep questions about Cavanaugh's future with the team.
"There is one and only one source with regards to the status of my coaches," Billick said. "I've made it very, very clear that we will address that issue at the end of the season."
Billick was less vague in addressing Chris McAlister's opinion that the Ravens have a divided locker room. McAlister said Wednesday that the players lacked unity and described the atmosphere as "shifted" and "not a healthy situation."
"I've got to count on the other players who have a good, solid mindset - the Anthony Weavers of this team - and there are numbers of them," Billick said. "The players that are struggling with that need to lean on those a little bit and need to lean on one another. This is a good, solid locker room. Is it perfect? No. Is there a lot of anxiety? No."
Unlike any other time this season, there was a combative tone in the Ravens' locker room.
Players greeted the media entering the locker room with boos. Linebacker Adalius Thomas followed that by shouting, "Nobody talk to them today."
On two occasions, a member of the Ravens' public relations staff pulled a player off to the side before speaking to the media. The players then refused to address any questions that didn't pertain to the Dolphins.
When reporters tried to ask Thomas anyway, he became increasingly testy.
"I'm going to say this one more time and this interview will be over: I'm not answering questions what somebody said, or what you think I think about the locker room," Thomas said. "It's not my job to report to you what happens in this locker room. What happens in this locker room, stays in this locker room."
McAlister refused to speak to reporters yesterday. Linebacker Ray Lewis, the team's leader, declined to talk for the second time this week.
Only backup cornerback Corey Fuller would speak specifically about McAlister's portrayal of the team.
"Some of these guys haven't been in other positions," Fuller said. "They need to be careful what they're thinking they're complaining about or what is bothering them. There are other teams that have been out of the playoffs since Week 5. I think as a team, as a man and as a player, be careful about what you complain about because it could be just a little worse on the other side."
Fuller, however, refrained from criticizing McAlister directly.
"When you wake up in the morning in this profession and in life, you have the opportunity to look in the mirror and look at yourself first before you come into any environment," Fuller said. "It's not a shot at him. When you lose, nobody should be happy. This is not a lose business. There is no answer for his comment. If that's the way he feels, that's the way he feels."
Billick said he hadn't planned on speaking with McAlister about his assessment of the Ravens' camaraderie.
"This is not something to chastise Chris for," Billick said. "It's one of those things where, 'Gosh Chris, it sounds like you're struggling a little bit, what can I do to help?' Chris has to help out a little bit if he wants some help with that.
"I don't deny if that's Chris' perspective. You've got to respect that. We're here to help and get you over this tough emotional hump that you appear to have."
NOTES: There were no changes to the Ravens' injury report. Running back Jamal Lewis, tight end Todd Heap, linebacker Ray Lewis and nickel back Deion Sanders did not practice for a second straight day, but all are expected to play Sunday. ... Third-string quarterback Sage Rosenfels will make his first career start Sunday when the Miami Dolphins face the Ravens, as A.J. Feeley was ruled out because of a rib injury.
Sun staff writer Glenn P. Graham contributed to this article.
An update on the three teams battling the Ravens for the final wild-card spot.
Buffalo Bills (9-6)
Beating the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday clearly would be easier at this juncture than at any other point in the season.
For starters, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger will sit out with a rib injury.
And also to be considered: While Steelers coach Bill Cowher insists he wants to win to keep momentum, he won't do it at the risk of endangering players he needs in the postseason.
Denver Broncos (9-6)
It has been 35 years since an Ivy League player has played for the Broncos.
In 1969, University of Pennsylvania alumnus George Burrell played in all 14 of the Broncos' games at safety, starting seven.
Tuesday, the Broncos signed running back Johnathan Reese, a Columbia alum, to fill the spot vacated when Garrison Hearst went to injured reserve.
Reese is the 17th Ivy alum on a 53-man NFL roster this season, a total that is up from 14 last year.
Jacksonville Jaguars (8-7)
The Jaguars will face a familiar face in the Raiders' Danny Clark.
Clark was a seventh-round pick by the Jaguars in 2000 who spent most of his four seasons in Jacksonville as a utility player.
Under coach Jack Del Rio in 2003, Clark played all three linebacker positions. What he wanted most was a "home," and he found it in Oakland at middle linebacker.
"He's been kind of an iron man for us. He's been great," Raiders coach Norv Turner said of Clark.
Compiled from wire reports and Web sites.
According to the NFL's scenarios, the Ravens can clinch a playoff berth if: they win at home vs. Miami; and Buffalo loses at home to Pittsburgh; and Denver loses at home to Indianapolis; and Jacksonville loses or ties at Oakland.
Next for Ravens
Matchup: Miami Dolphins (4-11) vs. Ravens (8-7)
Site: M&T; Bank Stadium
When: Sunday, 1 p.m.
TV/Radio: Ch. 13/WJFK (1300 AM), WQSR (102.7 FM)
Line: Ravens by 11