- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 15, 2002

OWINGS MILLS, Md. It might as well be do-or-die for the overachieving Baltimore Ravens.
The Ravens (6-7) know a loss today against the expansion Houston Texans (4-9) at Reliant Stadium realistically would end their playoff hopes although they could remain alive if the Pittsburgh Steelers lose to the Carolina Panthers.
By beating the improved Texans, who have won two of their past three games, the Ravens can keep dreaming of an AFC North title with games against the Cleveland Browns and Steelers in the next two weeks.
"Our playoffs start this week we've got to go undefeated to get what we need to get done," Ravens linebacker Peter Boulware said. "It can be done. We're not looking at an impossible task."
The only way the Ravens will qualify for the playoffs is to win their first division title. The Ravens currently trail the Steelers (7-5-1) by 1 games and the Browns (7-6) by one game.
"We have to win the rest of our games and Pittsburgh has to lose a game," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "That's as clear-cut as you can get and about all you can really ask at this time. So, [we are] very much aware of that."
The Ravens turned in a dismal performance in last week's 37-25 loss to the New Orleans Saints, when they lost three fumbles, threw two interceptions and had two punts blocked. The Texans are coming off a shocking 24-6 win in Pittsburgh, when they returned three Steelers turnovers for touchdowns despite their offense gaining just 47 yards fewest ever by a winning team.
"The amazing thing is that we go in there as 14-point underdogs and win a game by 18 points and get 47 yards offense, but our defense played a phenomenal game," Texans coach Dom Capers said.
Without question, the Texans' defense has been the team's calling card in the franchise's first year. Capers' 3-4 defense is rated in the top half (14th) of the league. An integral part is middle linebacker Jamie Sharper.
Sharper, who played five seasons (1997-01) in Baltimore and was a vital component of the Ravens' 2000 Super Bowl team, is looking forward to today's encounter with his former teammates. Because of salary cap constraints, the Ravens left Sharper unprotected during last winter's expansion draft, and the Texans snatched him in the fifth round. Sharper is the Texans' second-leading tackler with 144.
"This is going to be a fun game; you definitely have your best performance against guys you practiced with and guys who know who you are," Sharper said. "I'm going against Jamal [Lewis] and those linemen up there, and it will be just like it was in practice a couple of years ago."
Besides Sharper, the Texans have other defensive standouts. Linemen Seth Payne (119 tackles) and Gary Walker (99 tackles) are as good as they come. Cornerback Aaron Glenn is tied for fifth in the AFC with five interceptions and is making a strong case for Pro Bowl honors.
The offensive line has been the Texans' downfall this season. Rookie quarterback David Carr is just five sacks shy of establishing an NFL record for the most against a starting quarterback. Randall Cunningham, the Ravens' backup quarterback last season, went down 72 times in 1986 with the Philadelphia Eagles.
With nothing to speak of up front, Carr has the AFC's lowest quarterback rating (67.3), and the Texans average a league-worst 89 yards rushing.
Perhaps the problem started with the expansion draft. The Texans selected left tackle Tony Boselli with the first pick from the Jacksonville Jaguars, but he has not played a down because of injury. Right tackle Ryan Young, whom the Texans took with the second pick, missed six games with a groin injury. Both guard spots have been revolving doors.
"We've certainly had our share of inconsistency and certainly our share of injuries on the offensive line," Capers said. "We took Tony and Ryan Young in the expansion draft, and we thought we would have our two starting tackles. We haven't had any continuity in the offensive line. I will say this: We gave up fewer sacks than the Steelers did last week."

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