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Punching the clock

Ravens hope to have to work for another month

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Posted: Tuesday December 26, 2000 7:20 PM
Updated: Wednesday December 27, 2000 12:59 PM

  Brian Billick, Al Groh Sunday's loss to Brian Billick (left) and the Ravens was a bitter pill for Jets head coach Al Groh to swallow. AP

OWINGS MILLS, Md. (AP) -- Brian Billick spent Christmas night studying game film of the Denver Broncos. He also expects to put in long hours the remainder of the week, perfecting a game plan for the Baltimore Ravens' initial foray into the playoffs.

It sure beats the alternative.

This is the time of year when the Ravens traditionally clear out their lockers and begin looking toward next season. Nineteen NFL teams have already done it.

But the Ravens have at least one more game to play, perhaps as many as four. That means Billick will be stuck in his office this week, making plans for Sunday's playoff game against Denver instead of charting an itinerary for a winter vacation.

And he couldn't be happier.

"This is what you do it for, just to have this opportunity," Billick said Tuesday. "There are a whole bunch of guys sitting at home right now who didn't have to disrupt their Christmas Day. They're going to have a nice, relaxed, laid-back week. And they'd trade places with me in a New York minute."

Before this year, the Ravens (12-4) never had a winning season since moving from Cleveland in 1996. There's a certain danger to participating in the playoffs for the first time, because it's uncharted territory for players who have never experienced the sensation of performing in a national spotlight in a win-or-go-home situation.

"Take Denver," Billick noted. "They went 8-8 in Mike Shanahan's first year, then went 13-3, got into the playoffs and got eliminated in the first round. The next year they go to the Super Bowl. You saw the same thing in Green Bay."

That's one reason why veterans such as Shannon Sharpe, Rod Woodson and Trent Dilfer will be invaluable on and off the field this week. They're being asked to provide enough leadership to help the Ravens to avoid that pattern.

"There's a certain growth period you go through. In today's free agency, you bring in veterans to help you in this situation," Billick said. "We'd certainly like to leapfrog that learning curve, in that reaching the playoffs is new to this organization. But we also have a fair amount of players this is not new to."

Experience is important, but playing sound football is the ultimate requirement for winning in the playoffs. The Ravens have won seven in a row, yet there are signs that all is not well with the home team as the city prepares for its first NFL playoff game since 1977, when the Baltimore Colts lost in overtime to the Oakland Raiders.

The defense yielded 524 yards in last Sunday's 34-20 win against the New York Jets and fell to No. 2 overall behind the Tennessee Titans, a statistical affront to a team that set an NFL record for fewest points allowed over a 16-game schedule (165).

"The bottom line is we won the game and forced an incredible amount of turnovers [six]," Billick said. "We don't have anything to be ashamed of."

The offense, however, was an embarrassment. The Ravens made only five first downs, converted only two of 16 third-down plays and managed only 142 yards. Dilfer was 11-for-25 for 99 yards, numbers that probably won't equate to a win against Denver.

"Trent knows there are certain things he needs to be better, and the guys around him know there are things they have to better, too," Billick said. "We're going to have to do better offensively, no question about that."

The players were given off Monday and Tuesday and will begin practicing for the Broncos on Wednesday. Dilfer, who sprained his left wrist in Sunday's game, is sore but healthy enough to run the first-team offense.

Tony Banks, who separated his left shoulder against the Jets, hopes to practice this week and is optimistic of suiting up against the Broncos, Billick said.

Related information
Statitudes: NFL's stingiest defenses
Titans ace finale, so Ravens get wild card's 2000 NFL Playoffs coverage
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