- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 26, 2001

BALTIMORE The season hasn't even started, and already the Baltimore Ravens are up to their shoulder pads in bad omens.
Their top running back is lost for the season, the offensive line is a mess and three defensive starters missed the team's second preseason game Thursday with injuries.
It looks like another typical season for the Ravens, whose quest to repeat as Super Bowl champions is off to a shaky albeit familiar start.
Baltimore last season dealt with a media mob surrounding linebacker Ray Lewis, a run of five straight games without a touchdown, a three-game skid and the benching of its starting quarterback.
The Ravens overcame all that to reel off 11 straight victories, including a 34-7 rout of the New York Giants in the Super Bowl. So they're not going to let a few injuries ruin their fun this time around.
"We have proven that we can handle crisis situations," said Ozzie Newsome, the Ravens' senior vice president of football operations.
Defensive end Michael McCrary said the players won't let anything bring them down.
"We're a team that keeps moving ahead. We're used to dealing with adversity," he said.
A month ago, the Ravens seemingly had everything in place for an encore of their improbable Super Bowl victory. Then fate took hold, reminding Baltimore that luck is every bit as important to a championship as tackles and touchdowns.
"You look at any Super Bowl champion, and you'll see that they stayed relatively healthy," coach Brian Billick said. "We were healthy last year. Some of it is just fate you're either going to get hurt or you're not. It's absolutely unavoidable."
Running back Jamal Lewis, who amassed 1,364 yards rushing as a rookie last season, tore a ligament in his knee in practice earlier this month and was lost for the year. Right tackle Leon Searcy lasted less than a week before a torn triceps shelved him for 10-12 weeks.
Less serious injuries to offensive linemen Jonathan Ogden and Edwin Mulitalo followed, leaving the Ravens with a substitute running back (Terry Allen) behind a makeshift line.
On defense, tackle Tony Siragusa (knee), cornerback Duane Starks (knee) and end Rob Burnett (groin) were held out of Thursday's 20-17 preseason loss to Carolina.
It's enough to make Art Modell, the owner of Team Turmoil, stifle a yawn.
"Injuries are part of the game. If we don't have the running game until Jamal comes back next year, we'll have to pick up the slack with passing," Modell said. "We have a very good quarterback this year."
Determined to make a good team even better, the Ravens replaced gritty Trent Dilfer with strong-armed Elvis Grbac, who made the Pro Bowl last season after throwing for 4,169 yards and 28 touchdowns with the Kansas City Chiefs.
Baltimore also added Searcy, and paid big bucks to keep its intimidating, record-setting defense intact.
Newsome signed Grbac to enhance the offense, but the loss of Jamal Lewis and Searcy means the Ravens once again will rely heavily on their formidable defense.
"After a Super Bowl, typically you lose some of your players and some of your coaches. But that's been minimal," Billick said. "There's nothing to convince me that we can't continue to be one of the dominant defenses in the league."
As long as Ray Lewis is roaming the middle of the field, the Ravens will be tough to score upon. All last year, Lewis had to deal with questions about his role in a double murder in Atlanta, a case in which he eventually pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice.
This season all he's got to worry about is his quest to become the best linebacker to play the game.
"I want people to think of my name first when asked to list the great linebackers in NFL history," he said.
Lewis goes all out even in practice, and inspires his teammates on defense to do the same. That, in turn, helps the offense.
"We're not afraid to compete against our defense. We know if we can move the ball against them, we can move it against anybody," tight end Shannon Sharpe said.


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