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Ravens play spoiler to buck Broncos

December 11, 2005|By Eddie Pells

DENVER -

The stretch run is under way in the NFL, the time of year where some teams play for the playoffs and others play for their jobs.

When they meet today, the Denver Broncos (9-3) will be the team thinking about the Super Bowl and the Baltimore Ravens (4-8) will be trying to salvage something from a season gone wrong.

The Ravens were a trendy Super Bowl pick to start the season. Injuries and poor play at quarterback helped put an end to that. Coach Brian Billick's job security is uncertain and even he has conceded he can't wait for the season to end.

Before that, though, the Ravens have their honor to defend.

"I think every man in this locker room wants to play football," defensive lineman Terrell Suggs said. "If they didn't, they wouldn't be here."

The Broncos, meanwhile, lost to Kansas City last week and had their lead in the AFC West trimmed to one game. Denver is still a big favorite in the division, though, in part because the next three teams on its schedule - Baltimore, Buffalo and Oakland - all have 4-8 records.

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"I'd rather be in our position, to play for what we're playing for," defensive lineman Ebenezer Ekuban said.

The Broncos are 14-point favorites, the biggest favorite in the NFL this week, although there is some rather telling history in this series to point out. The Ravens have dominated the Broncos in the past, winning four straight under all kinds of circumstances - in the playoffs, as underdogs, at home and on the road.

"It's a different season, a different team," Ravens cornerback Chris McAlister said. "But still, the confidence we have to go play Denver doesn't waver one bit."

Of course, the Broncos are a different team this year, too.

Even with two interceptions last week, Jake Plummer is having a career year, with 15 TDs and six interceptions in the most even-keeled season of his career.

The Broncos have found not two, but three backs who can carry the ball - "a three-headed monster," as Suggs called it - although coach Mike Shanahan said he'll probably have to scale it back to two this week; turns out, there really aren't enough carries available to keep Mike Anderson, Tatum Bell and Ron Dayne all involved.

The defense had been playing great, although some miscommunication in the secondary cost the Broncos in their 31-27 loss to the Chiefs last week.

Obviously, no team likes a loss. But if things go to "form" over the next three games, the Broncos might look back on that loss as the wake-up call they needed to get ready for the stretch drive.

Not that anyone in the Denver locker room will admit to taking this one for granted.

"Guys don't want to go anywhere and look like fools or get beat badly," Plummer said. "We know we will see their best shot. There is nothing better for them than to come in here and beat us."

The Ravens have been playing since Oct. 23 without linebacker Ray Lewis. This week, he underwent surgery on his hamstring, not surprising to the team, but yet another piece of bad news on an injury front that has bordered on ridiculous.

Lewis. Ed Reed. Will Demps. McAlister. Justin Green. Chester Taylor. Boller. That's a short list of those who have missed at least some time with injuries this year.

Meanwhile, Boller is leading an offense that has cracked 20 points only one time this season. The Broncos have failed to score 20 only once, in the season opener.

"By now, you know the standing of your record and you know what you're working toward," Broncos safety Nick Ferguson said. "You're either working toward next year or you're working yourself in the playoffs. So, there are no cakewalk teams and no teams that won't come out and fight. Teams are always fighting for something."

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