Still stoked?

Not that Monday's game wasn't important. It was. It told us that the Ravens still have a pulse and that their veteran defense can still play passionately and efficiently. It told us that defensive coordinator Rex Ryan's schemes still work when the right players are there to make them work. It told us that quarterback Kyle Boller can play at a high level, if not flawlessly, against superior opposition. It told us that, as many have suspected, this is a team that can run the ball when given the chance and that the investment in Willis McGahee was worth it.

But the next four games will tell us much more. For instance, whether the Ravens' defensive drive can be as fiery and their determination as steadfast when they're playing in Seattle in front of a hostile crowd Dec. 23 and there's no national spotlight. And whether Boller can maintain the concentration and focus to channel his considerable physical talents. And whether the commitment to run the football and use that expensive running back will continue.


But more than anything else, what will be tested is whether coach Brian Billick can keep his team stoked with no more artificial "Super Bowls" on the line. Remember, that's how Samari Rolle characterized the game against the Patriots. And that motivation is gone now. Fans might believe there's something special about the Indianapolis Colts coming to town Sunday, and for a certain segment of this community, the Colts will always be marked. And, of course, there's a revenge motive as well for January's playoff loss. But then there will be games against the Miami Dolphins and Seattle Seahawks that will have little meaning in the standings for the Ravens. And finally, in Game 16, the Pittsburgh Steelers, who will certainly have more at stake than the Ravens that frigid Dec. 30.

And so the test of leadership - and an indicator of how they should approach the offseason - will be determined by whether the Ravens, in the next four games, can prevail in the crucible of "So what?"


On Fox GameTime Live Tuesday, Billick addressed the notion that the NFL wants the Patriots to finish a perfect season and that officiating is leaning in that direction:

"Oh, there's certainly not a covert action on the league to make sure the Patriots break this record, but I've been on the other side as well when certain players or teams and officials maybe assume they're capable. ... Let me give you an example. When I was in Minnesota, Cris Carter was the best there was at pushing off and catching the ball on the sideline and keeping his feet in bounds. I think sometimes maybe officials, given the caliber of the team or the athlete, kind of assume certain things. But it's not overt."

Just in case you think sportswriters or your brother-in-law are the only ones with dippy notions about sports, take a look at the coaches' poll for college football. And let's take my favorite team at the moment, the Cinderella Hawaii Warriors.

Among the voting coaches, Hawaii - which finished No. 10 in the Associated Press poll and the Bowl Championship Series rankings and is headed to the Sugar Bowl - was ranked as high as No. 1 by one coach and as low as No. 22 by another. It was a coach from the Western Athletic Conference that put Hawaii at the top, New Mexico State's Hal Mumme (his team lost to Hawaii, 50-13, this season). And Dennis Franchione, who resigned from Texas A&M;, had the Warriors No. 22. The votes on Hawaii were more spread out than any other team. Another high vote came from Howard Schnellenberger, at Florida Atlantic, who made Hawaii No. 3, and Texas Tech's Mike Leach had it down at No. 17.