First and foremost with the addition of Steve McNair, was he the missing piece? Could Kyle Bollar be a suitable yet reliable backup after loosing his starting job? At Running Back would it be Jamal Lewis or Mike Anderson? Then we have the Wide Receiver position, sure Mason and Clayton were the Starters, but who was going toe be the #3, would Clarence Moore even challenge for a position on the team following Off-Season surgery? Devard Darling, Demetrious Williams or someone from a list of Non Drafted WR’s push the incumbents for the job? The Offensive Line, could they return to the form that created enough running room for Jamal Lewis to rack up over 2000 yards in 2003? Could they protect Steve McNair and the Ravens playoff hopes? Could the Offense Score, maintain drives and keep the Defense fresh?
The Defensive line, could they stop the likes Cadillac Anderson, Ladainian Tomlinson or Larry Johnson? Could they put pressure on and stop the Passing attacks of Drew Brees, Carson Palmer and Mike Vick? Could Chris McAlistor and Samari Rolle shut down Randy Moss, Antonio Gates, Chad Johnson and Heinz Ward? Who was going to replace Anthony Weaver and Will Demps, will Haloti Ngata be the run stuffer Ray Lewis said he needed to even come close to the Ray of old?
Out of the 2 new Punters Veteran Leo Araguz or Rookie Draft Pick Sam Koch, who would survive the heat and move on to Punt in the Opening Game in Tampa? Who would handle the Kick Off duties so Matt Stover could rest for those late Season Games in case we needed a clutch FG in Pittsburgh?
Even the fans had questions, I see a win here and a win there, no way we win on the Road in Tampa, we haven’t won a Road game since we beat the Jets in November 2004. Brian Billick did he have it in him anymore after Steve Bisciotti gave him a verbal yet public beating?
During the heat of August many of these questions were about to be answered.
Let’s start with Steve McNair, a lot became clearer on an August night in Baltimore. Game time temperature was hanging in the High 70’s, the Giants were in town to start the 2006 Preseason and just as predicted the Ravens Defense kicked Eli Manning and ex-Steeler Plaxico Burress to the curb and the Giants opening drive ran into a brick wall. The G-Men punted and Steve McNair took the field for the first time and with 12:50 to go and the Ball on the Ravens 20. Air McNair lead the Ravens Offense on a 12 play, 80 yard drive that took 7:22 off the game clock. It was the last time we saw McNair that night, but as the stadium emptied, you could have heard people on their Cell Phones making Reservations for Miami in February. Many of our questions had been answered with that drive alone. Jamal was running harder and finished with a 5 YPC average, McNair could manage a long drive with a strong running game and key passes to Todd Heap. When he couldn’t find anyone open he took the ball into the End Zone with a mad dash and a thud as 3 Giants converged on him as Baltimore held its collective breathe.
The Ravens made it out of Preseason relatively healthy and headed for the Sauna in Tampa Bay to play the Buccaneers on Opening Day. The monkey that’s been riding this team back for the past 11 Road Games was to get its first test of the year. The Ravens were going to show off the Offense and did so by winning the Coin Toss and electing to receive. What followed next was very reminiscent to the Opening Drive against the New York Giants on August 11th. Steve McNair lead the Ravens Offense on a 14 play, 80 yard drive that took 9:16 off the game clock and it was punctuated with a Jamal Lewis 4 Yard TD Run. As it stood that was all the Ravens would need the rest of the day in Tampa. The Ravens Defense held the Bucs to 8 First Downs and 142 yards of Total Offense. The Ravens threw a Shut out on Opening Day, on the road for the first time since the year 2000 when they beat the Pittsburgh Steelers in Three Rivers Stadium 16-0.
As we sit one game into the Season the questions that were numerous above became smaller and smaller. Dawan Landry won the Strong Safety job from a host of Competitors, Haloti Ngata was getting some playing time and even intercepted a Chris Simms pass and roared 60 Yards to the Tampa 9 before blowing all 4 tires. The Ravens had 3 Sacks and 3 picks off Chris Simms and that is what this Defense has always been about. Jamal Lewis will be the featured back in the Ravens offense and Demetrious Williams appears to have solidified the #3 WR Position ahead of Devard Darling and Clarence Moore who was not active for the game.
Over the next 14 Games the Ravens have swept all questions under the turf at M&T and even answered one we didn’t see coming.
During the Bye Week the Ravens stood 4-2 after 2 disappointing losses one in Denver in a driving rain storm and one at home versus Carolina, Brian Billick fired his long time friend Jim Fassel. Brian Billick would take over Offensive Play calling immediately in time for the Ravens trip to New Orleans to play the Saints. The Ravens went on the road and laid the wood to the Saints and ran up a 35-7 score before the Saints could answer. The Offense racked up 293 Yards in total offense and 21 First Downs. Jamal ran for a Season’s best 109 yards on 31 Carries.
After a 5 game winning streak, Brian Billick’s play calling would hit a bump in the road in Cincinnati. The Bengals and Ravens were on a short week and Billick did not have the Ravens prepared. It was another Road Game, in another City, in another Rain Storm. The Ravens are 0-2 on the road in Rain this year which brings us to another question that we didn’t see happening back in August, playing at home for the entire Playoffs.
Two things are certain as we head into Week 17 and a 4:15pm show down versus the Buffalo Bills, one is a win and we are guaranteed the Number 2 Seed. The second? If San Diego would lose, then the Ravens would have the #1 Seed, a week off and Home Playoff games as long as we win. A win makes us 13-3 and that also sets a Franchise record, we still have a lot to play for and hopefully a lot more Football to see that could conclude in Miami of February 4th, a long way from August.