After both earned victories last week, the Ravens and Bears try to reach the .500 mark when they meet at Soldier Field.
Baltimore was penalized 21 times in an embarrassing 35-17 defeat at Detroit two weeks ago, but bounced back with a 16-3 home rout of Cleveland on Sunday. Tight end Todd Heap scored the only touchdown for the Ravens, and the defense forced three turnovers and sacked former teammate Trent Dilfer four times.
“It doesn’t matter who was at quarterback or what team you were playing, we needed to get a win here today,” said Baltimore linebacker Tommy Polley, who had 1 1/2 sacks. “Everybody was doubting us, but we stuck together as a team all week.”
While Clayton and Mughelli have lesser sprains and will likely play Sunday, Reed will almost certainly miss Sunday’s game with a high ankle sprain, an injury that could sideline the 2004 NFL Defensive Player of the Year for several weeks. He was listed as doubtful on the team’s injury report.
Another concern for Baltimore is whether Jamal Lewis can get back to battering defenses the way he usually does.
Lewis has been limited to 292 rushing yards on 98 carries this season, an average of just under 3.0 yards per attempt. He had only 59 yards on 24 carries against the Browns.
With the Bears’ fourth-ranked rushing defense up next, this week might not be the one that Lewis gets untracked.
Baltimore coach Brian Billick knows opposing defenses will target Lewis first for the remainder of the season.
“They’re going to be very focused on a Jamal Lewis when he’s in the game, and their defensive calls will be dictated by that to a certain degree, based on what they think we’re going to do or the style of runner that Jamal is,” Billick said.
Although the Ravens could switch to backup Chester Taylor, Billick vows that Lewis will remain the team’s primary running back in the hope that he will return to form.
“We’re very lucky to have two outstanding backs,” Billick said. “We have a great deal of faith in Jamal’s continued ability to be one of the better backs in the league, and we will continue to try to highlight that.
“Jamal Lewis is a force to be reckoned with. When it’s all said and done, barring injuries, he will have a huge effect our ability to run the ball.”
Despite owning the league’s second-ranked defense, Baltimore’s offense is averaging slightly more than 12 points per game, a problem that threatens to derail the team’s playoff hopes.
“The season is still early, and people are writing you off for a loss here and a loss there. That’s just silly to us,” quarterback Anthony Wright said.
The Bears snapped their two-game losing streak with a 28-3 home victory over Minnesota on Sunday. Brian Urlacher recorded two sacks, Charles Tillman and Chris Harris each had an interception and Thomas Jones rushed for 89 yards and two touchdowns.
Jones turned in the solid performance despite wearing a knee brace.
“Sometimes when you’re thinking about the game more than your injury, it kind of helps you,” Jones said.
The Bears’ divisional alignment is also helping. Chicago and Detroit sit atop the NFC North at 2-3 with Green Bay and Minnesota, a team reeling from off-the-field issues, both 1-4.
Despite their sub-.500 record, the Bears have been outstanding defensively. Chicago is allowing 272 yards and 12 points per game, and has given up one touchdown in 12 red zone trips.
Linebackers coach Bob Babich expects the Bears to continue their strong play on defense against Lewis and the Ravens.
“This gap-shooting defense is a (coach) Lovie Smith defense,” Babich said. “When we designate eight players to defend the run, they have to stay in their gaps. If they stay in their gaps, there shouldn’t be anywhere for them to go.”