- The Washington Times - Monday, August 20, 2001

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) The belated debut of the reigning Super Bowl champions was undistinguished to say the least: a 16-3 loss to the New York Jets Saturday night that included nine penalties, seven sacks allowed and four turnovers.

But please look behind those ugly numbers, caused in part by the cancellation of the Baltimore Ravens' opening game by the messed-up turf in Philadelphia. Although coach Brian Billick said it was no excuse that this was his team's first game and the Jets' second, that was certainly a factor.

And things could have been far worse.

All-Pro offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden and starting cornerback Duane Starks limped off the field with ankle and knee injuries in the first quarter but apparently are not seriously hurt.

And Jason Brookins, on the practice squads of three teams last year before a mediocre summer in NFL Europe, ran for 37 yards on nine carries and caught three passes for 28 yards in the first of the auditions for a running back to replace Jamal Lewis, out for the season with a knee injury. In the wings: the old and battered Terry Allen, signed last week.

"I told Jason before the game, 'You've got a golden opportunity tonight, you're getting the chance you want,' " Shannon Sharpe said. "I think he took advantage of it. He showed very well."

Sharpe would know. The Ravens' tight end played most of his career in Denver, where Terrell Davis, a sixth-round draft choice, became a 2,000-yard rusher and Olandis Gary, a fourth-round pick, filled in admirably when Davis went down.

What the Ravens lacked in their opener was intensity the same intensity the Jets lacked last week when they played their first exhibition against an Atlanta team that already had played one game. To a man, they said they would get it back.

Injuries aside, that intensity may not come as easily as they think.

Almost every player on every team that's won a Super Bowl discovers about midway through the following season why it's so difficult to repeat.

For one thing, you're a target there are no Sundays off against teams that are looking to beat the top dog.

"You think you're playing as hard as you can," Randy Cross, the old 49er, once said. "You finally realize you're a quarter-step behind what you were last year and that's enough to cost you a couple of games no matter how much talent you have."

The Ravens already have had their adversity, losing Lewis for the season and offensive tackle Leon Searcy for 12 weeks or so. Tony Siragusa, the anchor of the defensive line, is out until the regular season with knee problems and will have to be watched when things start for real: bad knees have problems carrying 350 pounds.

But the Ravens do have some plusses. Elvis Grbac is a better quarterback than either of the two who played last year, Trent Dilfer and Tony Banks. "I played four years in Kansas City with a running back by committee so I know how it works," Grbac said.

Baltimore also has back intact the defensive unit that allowed the fewest points in modern NFL history last year and carried it to a title despite a midseason stretch of five games without a touchdown. And while the Ravens miss an exhibition game, their regular-season opener is at home against Chicago, one of the league's weaker teams.

And, as linebacker and Super Bowl MVP Ray Lewis said, "Jamal doesn't play defense."

As much as anything, that's a good reason not to write off the Ravens just yet.

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