- The Washington Times - Monday, September 30, 2002

OWINGS MILLS, Md. Brian Griese should consider himself doggone lucky.
While the Baltimore Ravens season may be headed for the pound, a golden retriever named Bella nearly threw a bone into one of the NFL's elite offenses.
Griese, the Denver Broncos' starting quarterback, suffered a sprained left ankle at his home on Wednesday when Bella barreled down the stairs after Griese and clipped him in a freakish accident.
Griese, who has thrown touchdown passes in 18 consecutive games the longest streak in the NFL, took half the snaps in practice on Friday and practiced at full strength Saturday, meaning his canine encounter probably won't keep him out of tonight's nationally televised game against the Ravens at Ravens Stadium.
"It's amazing what they can do with treatment," Broncos coach Mike Shanahan told the Denver Post. "He was working extremely hard to get that thing back. It was swollen, black and blue. To see him come back that quick is really a credit to him."
If for some reason Griese can't play, veteran backup Steve Beuerlein will lead the undefeated Broncos (3-0) against the winless Ravens (0-2). Fortunately for the Broncos, Griese's left ankle isn't his plant foot.
"I'm glad Brian got the dogs I sent him," Ravens coach Brian Billick jokingly said on Friday. "A gesture of mine, I know he loves animals."
The Ravens have never opened a season 0-3 and to avoid such a miserable start, they probably will need to run like a greyhound. Unfortunately, running the ball is something the Ravens haven't done very well the first two games. They've averaged 66 yards on the ground in the first two games and are ranked 30th in the 32-team league in rushing.
Jamal Lewis, who is coming back after sitting out all of last season with a torn left ACL, is the Ravens only real ground threat and is still trying to regain his pre-injury form that saw the bruising back rush for a team-record 1,364 yards in 2000. Lewis has gained just 117 yards on 34 carries (3.4 avg.) this season.
To make matters worse for the Ravens, the Broncos' defense is ranked No.1 against the run, allowing a measly 47.3 yards per game. Despite being keenly aware of Denver's ability to stop the run, Lewis believes Denver's run defense led by the front four of Trevor Pryce, former Raven Lional Dalton, Chester McGlockton and Kavika Pittman can be exposed.
"Just because they are No.1 against the run, doesn't really make them great run-stoppers," Lewis said. "I've watched film on them this year and I've seen some guys run the ball on them. I don't see them as being that spectacular. I think we can run the ball on them and we can move the ball on them."
Meanwhile, the Broncos offense is loaded with weapons. Wide receivers Rod Smith (15 receptions for 163 yards and two touchdowns) and Ed McCaffrey (seven receptions for 96 yards and one touchdown) are both big-play receivers and Griese looks to them often.
Tight end Shannon Sharpe, who helped lead the Ravens to a Super Bowl championship in 2000, is headed for the Hall of Fame once his playing days are over. Sharpe, after spending the past two seasons in Baltimore, is still adjusting to Griese and has caught eight balls for 83 yards this season.
But what makes the Broncos offense so dangerous is their running game. Shanahan is using a three-back rotation with Olandis Gary, Mike Anderson and Miami rookie Clinton Portis. So far, the coach is getting excellent results. The Broncos rank fifth in the league with an average of 156 rushing yards per game.
Portis, a second-round draft pick, leads the Broncos ground assault with 149 yards on 27 carries (5.5 avg.) with one TD. Anderson is right behind with 140 yards on 24 carries (5.8 avg.) Gary, who rushed for 1,159 yards in his rookie season in 1999, has been hampered by a sprained left ankle and has been limited to 98 yards on 23 carries (4.3 avg.). He is expected to be fully recovered for the Ravens.
"They always play pretty good on offense," Ravens linebacker Peter Boulware said. "It's good from a sense you know what they are going to do, but it's bad because they think, 'Here's what we do, you can't stop it.' That's the confidence they have."
Billick knows the Broncos want to showcase their talents on the grand stage of "Monday Night Football" and prove they are legitimate Super Bowl contenders. He realizes most of the folks tuning in tonight aren't doing so to watch his rebuilding team.
"[This game] is obviously a platform for the Denver Broncos," Billick said. "That's OK, we understand that. It is what it is."

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