Baby talk

The Baltimore Sun

As the Ravens' game against the New England Patriots approached Monday night, you wondered whether the Ravens had one more great game remaining.

After all, the great expectations for 2007 had faded, and the Ravens had not played a complete game this season. Several great players past their prime remained on the roster, so you wanted to know whether they could reach down one more time.

The Ravens played their best game of the season against the Patriots, losing, 27-24. The Ravens had 376 yards of total offense, and held the Patriots to 90 rushing yards while they gained 166. They took a seven-point lead with 14:25 to play, and almost pulled the upset of the season.

The big question now is whether they can play at this level in their remaining games, or was Monday night indeed their Super Bowl?

The answer is the Ravens will play well Sunday against the Indianapolis Colts, but they can't sustain it until the front office changes the culture surrounding this team.

The Ravens will have some emotional and physical letdown Sunday. There has to be. New England has become the team Americans either love or hate. No other team in the NFL can bring that kind of energy or elicit that type of emotion from a city.

But the Colts coming back to Baltimore will stir emotions that are tied to that franchise's history with this city. Fans will never let the Ravens forget.

M&T; Bank Stadium will be just as loud and electric Sunday as it was Monday night, and the Ravens will have to match that passion.

But after that ...

The Ravens will probably return to the same old Ravens. As great as Monday night's game was, the 2007 season was played out in microcosm in the fourth quarter.

They didn't make enough big plays. They hurt themselves with penalties and a lack of discipline. The play-calling was suspect. Quarterback Kyle Boller was intercepted when he threw into triple coverage, changing the complexion of the game.

What was different Monday night was that the Ravens played for pride. The game was on national TV, and the Ravens were at home in a city that prides itself on great defense.

The players rose up, and they proved they have had the talent all season, just no direction. Ever since coach Brian Billick signed his new contract at the end of last season, he has been lethargic, and his team has lacked motivation.

They'll have that motivation against the Colts, but it won't be the same for road games in Miami and Seattle before the regular-season finale at home against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

There were some positive signs Monday night. Boller played perhaps the best three quarters of his career. It took 12 games, but hopefully the Ravens have an offensive identity as a running team.

The offensive line knocked around the Patriots, and the Ravens were able to get extended pressure on a quarterback for one of the few times this season.

After the game, a lot of Ravens were talking about having something to build on because offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden and cornerbacks Chris McAlister and Samari Rolle all played well despite nagging injuries.

But the Ravens still have too many obstacles to overcome. Boller got tired in the fourth quarter. The Ravens couldn't mount a long scoring drive in that final period to put the game away. Billick ordered the third-and-two pass to running back Willis McGahee in the right flat with 3:54 left in the game, a play that should be stricken from the playbook.

But the most disturbing thing about the Ravens is their lack of discipline. It's a misguided team, and the players constantly complain like a bunch of babies.

The Ravens had 13 penalties for 100 yards. They had a meltdown when linebacker Bart Scott embarrassed the city by going after an official late in the game.

After the game, the Ravens whined about the officiating and talked of a conspiracy theory, which they do after every loss now.

But what we see is a team where players scream at the coaches because of an ill-advised timeout, or a team and a coach that can't get a break because they constantly berate officials.

Every time the Ravens appear on national TV, you shudder because you never know what to expect.

There is a pattern here, one of a troubled team that lacks discipline. It was great to see the Ravens play with intensity against the Patriots, because we haven't seen that in quite a while.

That used to be the standard here, but now it appears to be an aberration.

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