After 2 games, Big Dance talk is idle chatter

The Baltimore Sun

First, let's debunk this rumor: The Ravens did not award Justin McCareins a game ball, no matter how much they owed their first victory of the season to him.

Next, let's dismiss this idea: the one about the Ravens being in that select group of serious Super Bowl contenders. Right now, two games in - one gruesome loss, one gruesome win - that looks and sounds like a fairy tale, just short of being a joke.

That victory, 20-13 over a New York Jets team that was just good enough to not get it done at the end, ought to scare everybody, not thrill them. At best, the Ravens' faithful ought to be relieved to not be staring down the second 0-2 start in three years. The players themselves, talking proud and positive in the M&T; Bank Stadium locker room afterward, still admitted being hard-bitten realists during the final 2 1/2 minutes as the Jets carved their way through that defense toward the possible tying touchdown.

"That's nerve-wracking," Todd Heap said. "Yeah, we were very fortunate. It would've gone to overtime, and that's what we were preparing for. But we put a lot of faith in our defense."

More faith than Jets coach Eric Mangini had in his offense - there might have been overtime, anyway, had he not tightened up and gone for a chip-shot field goal on fourth-and-goal at the 3 with 10 minutes left, cutting the lead to 20-6. But that's a problem for the New York writers to address.

The Ravens' defense did hold, where Butterfingers McCareins couldn't, twice, and Laverneus Coles couldn't, once, in the span of less than a minute when just one display of sure hands would have tied it up.

Insisted Ray Lewis - immediate recipient of the Jets' gift when he caught the last McCareins ricochet in the end zone with 1:10 left - "The bottom line is that we won the game, no ifs, ands or buts."

Beg your pardon, Ray. Plenty of ifs, ands and buts.

This isn't about a defense that manhandled the Jets and Kellen Clemens, their first-time starter at quarterback, but then came almost completely unglued at the worst time - missed tackles, missed assignments, dumb penalties. It's not about an offense that did admirably well with Kyle Boller at the controls, but still looked as if it left too many points and first downs on the field.

It's not even about another maddening burst of headache-inducing play calls by Brian Billick, one of which seemed for a few terrifying seconds to have gotten Demetrius Williams seriously injured, leaping high and landing hard for a pass (with 3:12 left and the Ravens needing to eat the clock) that shouldn't even have been thrown. Gosh, can the $40 million running back, the one with 97 yards rushing and a touchdown catch in the game, get a touch there?

The serious doubts, even two weeks into the season, come from all of the above, and more. No team with aspirations to be one of the last two teams playing in Arizona in February ought to be life-and-death with this Jets team, led by the raw-as-sushi Kellen Clemens, at home, after building a 17-point fourth-quarter lead, six days after falling on its collective face in the season opener.

And if it is, it can't legitimately talk about beating the teams it has to beat to get to the Super Bowl.

Fortunately for them, the Ravens don't play any teams like that for a while. A lot of teams like these Jets fill the schedule through October, and that might be good for Boller, who did more of the right things yesterday than he has at almost any other time in his career. It's also good for Steve McNair and Jonathan Ogden, who both might be able to get away with a few more weeks of healing because of how their fill-ins played yesterday.

And the defense still was a beast for three quarters.

That's it for silver linings, though.

OK, so this is nothing new; no one who has been here a while even tried to deny that. "We play a whole lot of 'em," sighed Heap, speaking of games like yesterday's. "You really get the gray hair."

Last season, wins like this early on hid a growing disenchantment about the offense, which eventually turned into Billick's taking over the play-calling and sparking the big stretch run. No such disenchantment is evident this time, and even if there were any, you couldn't find it amid all the relief.

"No, no, we're not gonna get frustrated around here," said Derrick Mason, one of the most openly disgruntled a year ago. "We understand that there are going to be some peaks and valleys, but we have to learn how to overcome them. We learned that in the last game and we learned it again this game."

Still, those were peaks and valleys against the Bengals and the Jets. When they come against the Steelers (twice), Chargers, Patriots and Colts - five of their final nine games - cover your eyes.

Win or not, this had better be as bad as it gets.

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