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Ravens receivers have attitude issues, but it could be worse

As soon as the Ravens signed receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh shortly before the season, problems were expected from him, or one of the team's other two prima donna receivers, Derrick Mason or Anquan Boldin.

One of those moments came in the fourth quarter Sunday when Mason got into a fight with quarterback Joe Flacco on the sideline in Charlotte, N.C., at one point grabbing Flacco's face mask.

The two had to be separated by teammates, and offensive coordinator Cam Cameron brokered the peace.

Ravens coach John Harbaugh had every right to cut Mason because his tirades have become old and worn out through the years. But for now, Harbaugh has to look at the overall picture, and what he sees so far isn't bad.

"Every case is different, and we want to look at them individually," Harbaugh said. "Since I've been here, I think our organization is very good at confronting the problem, but not the person or the player. We don't want to make it personal. When I grabbed Dannell Ellerbe's face mask in the preseason, I wasn't attacking him, but the problem.

"You try to establish a relationship with each of those receivers, each of the players, and our receivers are not bad guys, they are good guys who have not been a problem all year."

All right, we'll accept that for now even though it's not entirely true. Mason, Boldin and Houshmandzadeh seem like decent people and have been relatively quiet for the most part.

Mason has had some issues, like wanting to be the last offensive player introduced during pre-game ceremonies and tossing the ball up in the air for a delay of game penalty earlier this season. Houshmandzadeh has had his moments, too, complaining about not getting enough passes or being used too much as a decoy instead of a primary receiver.

But the Ravens haven't turned into the Minnesota Vikings or the Dallas Cowboys. Harbaugh expected some complaints.

"All of them want the ball," Harbaugh said. "I have told them that I want players who want the ball, and if you didn't want the ball, then what are you doing here? But I also told them that they just can't be a diva, that I'm going to be watching for what you do without the football.

"Are you running that clearing-out route hard, or are you making that block? I told them if they didn't, then they weren't going to get the ball. They just laughed, but we understand each other, and they understand why sometimes they don't get the ball. Maybe it's because they were covered or maybe it's best there was a sack or the quarterback missed them."

So far, Flacco has done well spreading the ball around. Boldin has 48 catches for 625 yards, Mason has 37 for 489 and Houshmandzadeh 15 for 255. But there will always be issues among the three because the battle to be the No. 1 receiver isn't just about pride and ego.

It's also about money. Player contracts are often loaded with incentives based on catches, yards, touchdowns and Pro Bowl appearances. Among the three receivers, they have appeared in six Pro Bowls.

So, Harbaugh is stuck between the proverbial rock and a hard place. In a season filled with high expectations, the pressure to win builds significantly heading into December and January. There have been flashes of a great passing offense this season, but the Ravens aren't in a good rhythm yet.

Harbaugh can't afford to alienate one of his talented receivers, especially a veteran, who could pollute his locker room. Both he and Flacco have to be diplomats, even when a player such as Mason crosses the line.

"I've known how to deal with it," Flacco said. "I think you learn it in high school and college and your time in the NFL. You always have to deal with those types of situations, whether it's you that's [ticked] off or one of your teammates. Everybody is going to be a little heated at some point. You learn how to deal with it and get by it."

Added Mason: "It's not like this is something that's common, like something I get into every week. I'm just passionate about what I do. If you don't like it, so be it. Watch somebody else play. This is the way I've been for 14 years. I'm going to continue to be passionate."

Unfortunately, the Ravens will put up with this attitude for the rest of the season.

But if they can persuade Houshmandzadeh to sign for another year, Mason will probably be gone at the end of the 2010 season.

Privately, the Ravens are tired of his antics, too. It's just that they have to hold out for this season. They knew there would be problems, but this one isn't overwhelming. Not yet, anyway.

It could be worse. The Ravens could have become a soap opera like the Vikings and the Cowboys, or losers like the Cincinnati Bengals, who have bigger prima donnas than the Ravens.


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