|Manning, Colts expect challenge from battered Ravens defense|
|Written by Admin|
|Thursday, 06 December 2007 14:46|
Both occurred last January, when the Indianapolis Colts beat the Baltimore Ravens 15-6 to advance to the AFC title game. The stakes in the rematch Sunday night aren't nearly as high, mainly because the Ravens (4-8) are mired in a six-game losing streak.
``That seems like a lifetime ago,'' Baltimore coach Brian Billick said of the playoff defeat.
Regardless, Manning knows better than to anticipate any less of a challenge from Baltimore's proud, relentless defense.
``It's essentially been that same core group of defensive players since I've been playing against them,'' said Manning, who's won four consecutive against the Ravens but is 1-2 lifetime in Baltimore.
``They're tough to move the ball against, and every yard that you get, you kind of feel good about,'' he said. ``Having to go back there this year, when the schedule came out, I knew it would be tough - especially late in the year.''
Manning no doubt anticipated the game would have as much meaning for the Ravens as the Colts (10-2), but Baltimore's bid to build on last year's 13-3 mark has been buried under an assortment of injuries, most notably to quarterback Steve McNair.
McNair threw for 173 yards and was picked off twice in the playoff loss to the Colts. This season, he endured a strained groin, sore back and torn rotator cuff before being placed on injured reserve.
His replacement, Kyle Boller, has been inconsistent. That explains why Baltimore's offense is ranked 23rd in yardage and has produced only 17 touchdowns in 12 games.
Asked to assess the Ravens, Colts president Bill Polian said: ``They've had a hard go of it injury-wise. In spite of that, they played magnificently against New England and should have won the game but for a few very bad breaks. Any team that can play that way is a formidable opponent.''
Polian was referring to the Ravens' 27-24 loss to unbeaten New England on Monday night. Willis McGahee ran for 138 yards and Baltimore held the lead until Tom Brady took advantage of several penalties to throw the winning touchdown pass with 44 seconds left.
For the Ravens, building on that game and ending a franchise-record skid is far more important than getting revenge for a playoff loss 11 months ago.
``It's playing an elite team on Sunday night. That's all these guys are focused on,'' Billick said. ``Coming out and giving the same kind of effort they gave Monday night.''
The fact the Colts once played in Baltimore was a big part of the hype last January, but that really doesn't mean much to the Ravens anymore.
``Everyone's aware of it, but we want to win a football game first and foremost for the guys in the locker room,'' said Derrick Mason, who leads the Ravens in receptions.
The Ravens opened this season 4-2, but most of the players believe their downfall began with that horrid home loss against the Colts.
``It seems like we've been in a rut ever since the last time we played them. It's like they started that for us and put us in a hole,'' defensive tackle Kelly Gregg said. ``It started with them and hopefully we can find our way out against the team that put us there.''
Colts coach Tony Dungy expects his team to find the end zone in the rematch, but he wouldn't be surprised to see a low-scoring game.
``They're obviously not playing at the 13-3 level, but they're doing a lot of the same things that 13-3 team did,'' he said. ``That's what we have to prepare for.''