It seemed like some things were just beginning to click last night against the New York Giants. The short passing game was on, led by receiver Kevin Johnson. Quarterback Kyle Boller was hot and elusive, giving fans hope for the future. The Ravens actually had balance, not just on offense, but between a dominating defense and an offense that complemented it.
And then the giant went down, with enough force to make an entire organization hold its collective breath.
Jonathan Ogden, the Ravens' seven-time Pro Bowl offensive tackle, had to be helped from the field following a block last night after running back Chester Taylor and Giants linebacker Kevin Lewis crashed into the back of his leg with 3:22 left in the first quarter.
The initial diagnosis by team officials is a medial collateral sprain of the left knee, which would be on Ogden's power or anchor leg. The former UCLA star will be evaluated more extensively today, but you really don't know what team doctors may find. In the 2001 training camp, running back Jamal Lewis walked off the field on his own, but later needed major reconstructive knee surgery that sidelined him for the year.
Ogden's loss would also have significant impact. Team officials listed him as questionable for the season opener against the Browns in Cleveland on Sept. 12.
The Ravens can't afford to lose Ogden. Not only is he the anchor of the offensive line, but this is also a unit that has lost center Mike Flynn for the next five to seven weeks because of a broken collarbone. right offensive tackle Orlando Brown has missed three of four preseason games, including last night's 27-17 win over the Giants, because of an illness in his family.
Fourth-year player Casey Rabach is more than an ample replacement for Flynn, even though he lacks Flynn's experience, but the Ravens will struggle without Ogden or Brown. The Ravens don't have a backup who has Brown's explosiveness and power. There is no replacement for Ogden.
On a pure technical basis, he is the best player in Ravens history, and possibly the best in the league. Ogden, 6 feet 9 and 340 pounds, has the combination of strength, leverage and agility few can match. Seldom is he out of position. He's one of the game's most dominant players, protecting the blindside of a team that has a second-year starting quarterback and a struggling veteran backup.
But more importantly, he is the major part of the Ravens' tough-guy image on offense. Ogden isn't a screamer or a rah-rah guy in the locker room, just a professional who comes to work each day and beats up other people for a living.
He is a leader by example. Most of Lewis' yards since the 2000 season have been gained on the left side.
Ogden will probably play Sept. 12, even if he has to drag his knee out on the field. The future Hall of Famer, the first player ever drafted by the Ravens, has missed only four games in eight years. In a game against the Tennessee Titans in 1998, he played despite sprains to both ankles.
Ogden treats practice likes he treats games. He rarely misses them. He started out slow in training camp this season, but it didn't take him long to recover. Everything seems to come so easy when it comes to football.
But his injury put a slight damper on the Ravens' win last night. You don't put a lot of faith in preseason games, especially the last one when a lot of veterans are just trying to avoid injury.
But this was a team effort. Despite pressure, Boller looked comfortable in the pocket. He was accurate on short passes, the major staple of the West Coast offense. The Ravens finally have a receiver who can hold onto the ball in Johnson, who has become Boller's go-to guy in clutch situations. With tight end Todd Heap returning from injury, the Ravens could have an adequate passing attack, enough of one to take pressure off the running game.
Defensively, the Ravens had few problems with the Giants. And this group is only going to get better. Nickel back Deion Sanders has only practiced one day, and Pro Bowl cornerback Chris McAlister didn't report until Monday. Both starting defensive ends, Marques Douglas (dislocated elbow) and Tony Weaver (ankle), did not play last night, but they have been cleared to play against the Browns.
"We played fast. We played physical, and we had some fun," said Ravens coach Brian Billick. "That's a good way for some of the vets to end the season."
"Our starting defense only gave up one touchdown all preseason," said inside linebacker Ray Lewis. "We are ready to go. I think we ended great."
Not quite. The Ravens need to get the green light on Ogden today.
"It was very scary," Billick said of Ogden's injury. "Your heart just sinks, and you look out there and you just pray things are going to be OK. You know what Jonathan Ogden means to this football team."