- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Baltimore Ravens coach Brian Billick thinks his team is no different from the Chicago Bears, New England Patriots, San Diego Chargers or any other team that didn’t win Super Bowl XLI.

“Just like the Bears were disappointed in how their season ended, just like the Patriots were disappointed in how their season ended, just like San Diego was disappointed in their season — you recognize this team has some great potential and we’ll pick up where we left off in terms of the 13-3 season,” Billick said.

That is Billick’s version of what happened last January, when the Indianapolis Colts defeated the Ravens 15-6 at M&T; Bank Stadium in Baltimore to advance to the AFC Championship game.

But that dog don’t hunt (I know that’s a cliche, but, hey, it’s the first time I’ve ever written it and at least it uses the word “dog” without invoking Michael Vick’s name).

The loss to the Colts was the football equivalent of blowing a five-run lead with two out in the bottom of the ninth (see Baltimore Orioles, Mother’s Day Massacre, 2007), the kind of loss that eventually led to the firing of Billick’s Orioles counterpart, manager Sam Perlozzo.

Defeats like that never can be truly left behind, as long as those who took part are the ones trying to leave it behind. How can you forget a loss to Peyton Manning and the eventual Super Bowl champions in which Manning never threw a touchdown pass?

How many times does that happen? How many chances like that do you get?

“I’m not sure if we ever won one before in the nine years I’ve played here without scoring a touchdown,” Manning said after the game. “My guess is no.”

Does anyone think that will happen again if the Colts and Ravens meet in this postseason?

The players insist there is no carryover.

“We know we have unfinished business. We’re not bitter about it,” Terrell Suggs said. “We tip our hats off because the team that beat us in the playoffs ended up winning it all. So you can’t be down on yourself about that. It happened last year, and last year’s gone and this year’s here.”

Last year is gone, and so is perhaps the Ravens’ best shot at returning to the Super Bowl.

If they had beaten the Colts, the Ravens would have faced the weakest Patriots team in several years — yet a team that nearly defeated the Colts and advanced to the Super Bowl, where they surely would have beaten the Bears. There is no reason to believe the Ravens wouldn’t have taken the Bears apart, too — maybe, with their strong defense, they would have handed the NFC champions an even worse beating than did the Colts.

But the Patriots’ disappointment is different from the Ravens’. The Patriots got much better in the offseason, shoring up their receiving corps and signing Baltimore’s best defensive player, Adalius Thomas, to a five-year, $35 million contract that included $20 million in guaranteed money.

There is good reason to believe, going into this season, that everyone other than the Patriots is playing for second place.

The Bears’ disappointment is different from the Ravens’, too. The Bears don’t play in the AFC, where they might have been the fifth-best team last year. In the NFC, the Bears have a far easier path to the Super Bowl than do the Ravens.

The Chargers’ disappointment? It’s different, as well. The Chargers blew their playoff game against the Patriots last year, and coach Marty Schottenheimer departed in the offseason. The Chargers, at least, can claim a new slate (though, since Norv Turner’s name is written on that new slate, San Diego may find a different type of disappointment).

The Ravens claim their slate is just fine. They think quarterback Steve McNair, though a beaten-up 34, will be even better this year after a whole season of experience with the organization.

But serious questions abound about the ability of the offensive line to protect McNair, which means they are one bull rush or missed block away from Kyle Boller. That, unfortunately, is a familiar type of disappointment for Ravens fans.

Bringing Willis McGahee in as running back and pushing Jamal Lewis out is considered an upgrade. But the wide receiving corps — Mark Clayton, Derrick Mason and Demetrius Williams — won’t scare anybody. The defense returns 10 starters from last year, but the loss of the 11th to a conference rival will be tough to make up.

So, I suspect, will be that 15-6 loss to Indianapolis if the Ravens fall short again and the window of the Ray Lewis era shuts a little more.

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