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Sunday’s game against the Bucs was a very dangerous one for the Ravens. They had gone almost 2 years without a road win. They were taking on the NFC South Champs in sweltering summer conditions where the Bucs were 6-2 in 2005. The Ravens offensive line would face one of the game’s best front fours and perhaps the NFL’s best front seven all part of the league’s No. 1 defense from last season.
That’s quite a daunting task for an offense that averaged an anemic 11.8 points per game during their 11 game road skid.
The conditions were ripe for more road kill.
Had the Ravens lost this one in Tampa in convincing fashion, the collateral damage may have spread deep and wide. They would have carried the weight of another road loss and they would have had to face the music of Willie Nelson again when they packed their bags for Cleveland, a place that hasn’t been kind to the Ravens.
Another road loss in Cleveland and 2006 might then mirror 2005.
Sunday’s win in Tampa was huge. Sure, it was just one game – just one stretch in the marathon known as the NFL season. But this one stretch was a very, very good one and it sets up the balance of the season’s first quarter quite nicely.
To defeat a playoff team on the road on opening day is an accomplishment. To dominate such a team is a statement.
Interestingly enough, they dominated even though the team’s offensive leader wasn’t on his best game. Steve McNair short-hopped Todd Heap a couple of times. He overthrew an open Todd Heap in the end zone. He sailed an easy quick screen to Mark Clayton well over the receiver’s head and out of bounds.
But he never rattled!
McNair’s calming influence comes through when the stage lights go on and the heat turns up. He might not deliver the crispest pass or put up numbers like Peyton Manning or Carson Palmer. Yet he does bring leadership, playmaking ability and the veteran savvy to manage a game. Sunday was a showcase as to why the Ravens invested so many millions in No. 9.
Speaking of numbers, suddenly a 4-0 start doesn’t look as out of reach as it may have on Saturday. With the Raiders coming into town from the west coast in potentially hot and humid conditions after a late Monday night finish in Oakland, 2-0 seems quite realistic. (Word to Brian Billick…make the Raiders wear their black jerseys).
Cleveland lost to New Orleans at home on Sunday and that looks like a manageable win at this point as does the Chargers game at The Vault on October 1.
Could the Ravens be a NFL best at 4-0 heading into Monday night at Denver on October 9?
It’s possible, but let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves.
Clearly the win was important for so many obvious reasons. Not as obvious yet clearly as important was the way in which the Ravens won. They kept their composure. They kept their collective head.
There weren’t any unnecessary and costly penalties. There wasn’t much trash talking with the opponent, just genuine enthusiasm and some overdue intensity away from home. The Ravens were very workman like and for once they treated a road game like a business trip – something that Brian Billick has preached often to his players yet seldom finding his intended mark.
The players seemed to take the win in stride. It’s as though today’s victory was no more than a brick in the wall and the wall is far from complete. And that’s a refreshing change.
Change is something that Steve Bisciotti demanded of his head coach entering the 2006 season. After the game, the television camera found Brian Billick and Steve McNair in a very happy exchange. The look on Billick’s face seemed to suggest a feeling of relief. That road gorilla was finally off his back.
The old Brian Billick may have been a bit boastful and he may have needlessly elevated the team’s swagger. Yet instead when he addressed the media after the game and discussed the team’s 11 game road losing streak Billick quipped, “What streak? We got a 1-0 winning streak on the road. That’s the streak I’m worried about.”
The response seemed to suggest that the Ravens will take the season one game at a time, something they did during the 2000 season when the “P” word was banned.
Hey, do you realize the last time the Ravens won a season opener on the road it was in 2000 when they beat the Steelers 16-0? And we all remember how that season ended, right?