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Coach will have to lift their spirits, too

The Baltimore Sun

Sunday's game at Miami should tell us something about the Ravens' high-profile rookie.

Not quarterback Joe Flacco. It's the other top rookie - first-year head coach John Harbaugh.

Because the Ravens got trounced 31-3 by the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday, this is the time to see whether Harbaugh can breathe new life into a team that just got flattened.

The defense is shaken after getting ripped by Peyton Manning. The offense is searching for confidence after turning the ball over five times. And the special teams units are still bruised from the hits delivered by the Colts.

The players certainly feel the urgency now. Linebacker-defensive end Terrell Suggs said Wednesday that this game "could make or break our season" and a loss could "get guys starting to wither off and starting to jump off the bandwagon."

It seems as if the Ravens need a psychologist as much as a head coach.

That's why the pressure is on for Harbaugh to provide direction.

No one could argue that Harbaugh's predecessor, Brian Billick, was not a master motivator for most of his nine seasons with the Ravens. Billick routinely whiffed at finding a quarterback, but he seemed to always know the pulse of his players.

Back in 2002, the Ravens were shut out by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 23-0. The next game, which followed a bye, the Ravens ripped apart the previously unbeaten Denver Broncos, 34-23, on Monday Night Football.

It's hard to predict how Harbaugh will try to pick up the Ravens.

In the first couple of weeks of the season, he kept his players focused despite losing their two most experienced quarterbacks and losing their bye week to Hurricane Ike.

The circumstances seem direr now. The Ravens have lost three straight games. They are coming off the third-worst loss in the team's 13-year history.

While Harbaugh is experiencing everything for the first time as a head coach, he learned from one of the best in dealing with a situation like this as a longtime assistant with the Philadelphia Eagles.

From 2002 to 2007, the Eagles lost by 20 or more points eight times under coach Andy Reid. His record was 6-2 in games following those routs.

That's a remarkable turnaround in a league in which momentum is critical to teams.

So, Sunday's game might not be "make or break," as Suggs suggests. But it will provide insight on Harbaugh's ability to motivate a team.

ugly losses

The three largest margins of defeat in Ravens history:

Date Opponent Score

11-9-97 at Pittsburgh 37-0

11-5-07 at Pittsburgh 38-7

10-12-08 at Indianapolis 31-3

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