- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 28, 2000

OWINGS MILLS, Md. Meet the Great Turnaround of 2000.
An offense that was once dead has been reincarnated into a scoring juggernaut.
October's version of the Baltimore Ravens' offense tied an NFL record by going 21 straight quarters without scoring a touchdown. November's Ravens are averaging 30.5 points per game.
A month ago, the Ravens' offense couldn't get out of neutral. Now the Ravens (9-4) are in cruise control and appear to be a lock for the playoffs.
Brian Billick, the Ravens second-year coach, remembers October. Billick, who has a reputation of being an offensive genius, doesn't want to revisit the month that saw his team score only 42 points on 14 Matt Stover field goals in five games.
Sunday against the lowly Cleveland Browns, the Ravens scored more points (44) than they did in the entire month of October.
Yesterday, Billick fined defensive tackle Tony Siragusa $500 for talking publicly about the Ravens' postseason chances. Billick imposed a gag order on the Ravens from speaking about the playoffs after enduring a month of not being able to score a touchdown.
Even though Siragusa wants to talk now, the Ravens had nothing to say in October. Their offense was a comedy show of bumbled snaps, sacks, fumbles, penalties, interceptions, incompletions and broken routes. Most of that took place during a difficult three-game stretch against Jacksonville, Washington and Tennessee.
"I don't know if you can point to one thing, I think it's a cumulative effect," Ravens center Jeff Mitchell said of the offensive rebirth. "It's many things. It's getting the experience in, it's gelling together, it's Jamal Lewis, that's a huge part of it."
Lewis, the fifth overall pick in last April's NFL Draft, is the front-runner for AFC offensive rookie of the year. In Lewis' last four games all Ravens wins the 5-foot-10 workhorse has rushed for 565 yards. Lewis leads all NFL rookies with 1,095 yards.
With three games left in the season, Lewis already has the highest single-season rushing total in Ravens history and has a shot at finishing the season with 1,500 yards.
"I just consider myself another seasoning to the meal, or whatever," Lewis said when asked if he felt he was the offense's savior. "We've got a lot of good players here and they brought a lot of good players here. That's always a part of trying to be a better team."
While Lewis has solidified Baltimore's ground attack, quarterback Trent Dilfer also deserves credit for putting the Ravens in position for their first-ever playoff berth.
In Week 9, a 9-6 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers, Billick replaced ineffective Tony Banks with Dilfer as the Ravens' starter. Even though Dilfer did not rally Baltimore against the Steelers, he instilled confidence among his teammates.
Since the Steelers loss, the 6-4, 229-pound Dilfer has passed for nine touchdowns to five different receivers in the last four games.
Dilfer attended a family emergency yesterday and was unavailable for comment.
"Trent has a great mind for the game," Billick said. "That's manifested itself in a lot of ways, both in practice, on the field, the way we communicate and he's playing very well right now. He's happy with what is going on around him. So there is a great deal of confidence in Trent. You're seeing the way Trent plays. It's not picture perfect. It's not textbook, but you can see the way Trent goes about doing his job has the potential for success. He's a tough guy, he's tough to bring down in the pocket and he's more athletic than you think he is."
Jonathan Ogden, the Ravens' Pro Bowl left tackle, is one who thought the quarterback change was needed. In the Ravens' 14-6 home loss to the division-leading Tennessee Titans on Oct. 22, Ogden walked off the field enraged after Banks threw his third interception of the game in the Titans' end zone when the Ravens had the ball at the Titans' 11.
Ogden, a District of Columbia native, lost his composure because the Ravens blew another touchdown opportunity. You don't want to upset a 6-8, 340-pound man. On the Ravens' next possession, Dilfer relieved Banks, and the rest is history. Banks hasn't started since Ogden went off and the Ravens are winning.
"We weren't quite executing earlier in the year everything we needed to do," Ogden said. "We were missing plays when they were there. You can't help it. Trent has come in and he's played well. Tony had some struggles and definitely gave his all out there, but we did get a spark when Trent came in."
That spark has turned into playoff fireworks. There is a possibility that the Ravens can win the AFC Central. The Ravens need to win their last three games against San Diego (1-11), Arizona (3-9) and the New York Jets (8-4). And if the Titans lose one of their four remaining games and finish 12-4 with the Ravens, Baltimore would win the division by virtue of a better conference record than the Titans.
Either way, the Ravens appear to be a wild-card lock. Idle this week because of their bye, the Ravens have the best record of all aspiring AFC wild-card teams. With winnable games against the Chargers and Cardinals, the Ravens look to finish 11-5 at the worst, and host a wild-card game at PSINet Stadium.
"We've proven we can compete with anybody, anywhere," Billick said. "I don't think there is a dominant team in the league, particularly in the AFC. There are some darn good teams and that's what is going to make the playoffs very exciting for the six teams that get in, because every single team is legitimately going to feel that they can make at run at this thing."

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