Who's that on radar? The Ravens?

The Baltimore Sun

Today concludes a week of perfect convergence of time, place and circumstance. If the Ravens' faithful were poised to play their favorite card - the Dangerfield card - they had to tuck it back into the deck this past week.

No respect for this surprising team? Not anymore.

It's as if America woke up Tuesday morning, rubbed the sand out of its eyes, squinted hard, did a double-take at the AFC North standings and sputtered, "... Baltimore?" And then went about trying to figure out how it came about, and where it might go.

That, of course, takes them to Giants Stadium this afternoon, where the defending Super Bowl champions and NFC leaders, as well as the nation's largest market and nearly half of CBS' TV audience, all await. But that's getting ahead of the story.

It apparently took an extra day for the Ravens' status and position to sink in. On Monday, the day after the rout in Houston raised their record to 6-3, most of the summaries of the previous day's big games, as well as the midseason reports, overlooked the Ravens. Surprise teams? Sleepers? Most impressive rookies? Best coaching jobs? Ravens representation was lacking.

Then, it seemed to click. The Pittsburgh Steelers' last-minute loss to the Indianapolis Colts brought them back toward the Ravens. Joe Flacco's run of four straight games without an interception suddenly was of great interest. So was the job John Harbaugh has been doing amid all the injuries and, yes, with a rookie quarterback. So was their conquering of the road, especially during this stretch, a real departure from last season.

The clincher - the big eyebrow-raiser among NFL watchers - was the fact that they had scored 27 or more points in four straight games. Offense in Baltimore - who knew?

By kickoff, a lot of people will know. The national networks and major publications parachuted in all week to find out what's going on. Even that can largely be chalked up to what's next on the schedule, rather than what already has been.

At New York Giants. These new, hard-to-recognize Ravens take their act to (sort-of) Broadway.

Usually, the veteran core of this team is hardly shy about the spotlight. This time, though, its approach is as different as everything else has been this season. This past week, there was hardly any talk about how the Ravens couldn't wait to prove everybody wrong and show everybody what the team is really all about. Not a surprise at this point - credit much of their success so far to their refusal to pay attention to the generally low preseason expectations for them.

In fact, their consistent repetition of the standard lines about one game not being more important than another and not turning games into statements was played for laughs, by Harbaugh and, when reminded that he had just mimicked his coach, Flacco.

"Oh, really? Well, it's the truth," Flacco said. "We're not worried about impressing people. It's all about wins."

"Everybody can make out of any game what they want to make out of it," Harbaugh said. "It might be interesting for some people or some fans more than other fans, but nonetheless, every single one of them counts the same. It's a win or it's a loss depending on how you play."

It's very interesting for a lot of people, actually, particularly the ones outside Baltimore. Whether the Ravens admit it or not, if they win today, the rest of America will really get its wake-up call.

Listen to David Steele on Fridays at 9 a.m. on WNST (1570 AM).

points after

* Maybe the best news for the Ravens about the rise of Joe Flacco: They won't have to face the inevitable Michael Vick question when he's released from prison.

* Speaking of which, they have to be equally relieved that they don't now, and will not later, have to answer the inevitable Brett Favre questions. Good for the Jets right now ... and good luck in the offseason.

* Plenty of fans at the new-uniform unveiling at The Gallery last week were just as happy to see the Orioles players in town in the offseason as they were to see "Baltimore" on the road jerseys. The theme: It's about time for that, too.

* Once again, does any metropolitan area have as much depth in the major men's college basketball coaching ranks as this one does?

* Football Bowl Subdivision (former I-A) programs: 119. Black coaches leading them: four. That theory about sports paving the way for Barack Obama to be elected president - how does that work, again?

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