[size=10pt]Ravens showed their faith in Billick by keeping him[/size]


When 10 NFL teams, including the Vikings, were changing head coaches after last season, the Baltimore Ravens stuck with former Vikings offensive coordinator Brian Billick, a guy who seemed to be on the hot seat right along with the coaches from that group who were fired.
"When you don't perform on the field, like we did last year, most times it's not just a matter of changing coaches that will make everything better," said Ozzie Newsome, Ravens general manager and executive vice president. "We sat down and assessed our whole organization, top to bottom, and we weren't going to throw the baby out with the bath water. Brian is a good football coach, and if he wasn't our head coach he would have been at any one of those openings that came up last season."

Billick, coming off a 6-10 season and 15-17 over the past two seasons, returns to the Metrodome today. It's his first professional trip back since the 1998 NFC Championship Game upset loss to Atlanta.

Billick's offense scored a record 556 points for that season's 15-1 team. Two years later, he rode a dominant defense to a Super Bowl title with the Ravens.

This year, the Ravens are expecting more balance, mostly because of the offseason trade that brought veteran quarterback Steve McNair from Tennessee. McNair was reunited with receiver Derrick Mason, whom McNair had played with for eight seasons before Mason joined the Ravens last season.

"You could see it right away that they have a chemistry that's already well-established," Newsome said. "Right now, with the team we have, and where our guys are in their careers, Steve McNair is the best quarterback for this team. And I think we're also the only team in the league with a backup quarterback [Kyle Boller] with at least 30 starts [34] in the system he's now playing in."

Taylor not missed in Baltimore

Ravens running back Jamal Lewis will rest his nagging hip injury tonight. But the Ravens are hardly bare at the running back position behind Lewis.

Three days after Chester Taylor, Lewis' former backup, left Baltimore to join the Vikings via free agency, the Ravens signed Mike Anderson, who topped 1,000 yards with Denver last season. Then they drafted Georgia Tech's P.J. Daniels in the fourth round.

And then there is Musa Smith, a 6-foot, 232-pounder who some would argue is having the best summer of any running back on the roster. Smith missed all but one game last season because of injury and has played only 21 games in three seasons.

"Losing Chester was part of what the National Football League is about now," Newsome said. "He was a good player and a good person. Same with losing [receiver] Travis Taylor to the Vikings last year when we got Derrick. We hate to lose good players, but we're prepared for it.

"We had three strong running backs last year, and this year we have Jamal, Mike and Musa. We feel we're stronger at running back this year."

Childress on Billick

Vikings coach Brad Childress has a relationship with Billick that goes back to when Childress was an assistant at the University of Washington and Billick was with the Vikings.

"He is very refreshing to me," Childress said. "He always has an opinion, and he's not afraid to give it to you. He's not afraid to think out of the box either, and I think that's what I've always enjoyed."


About 200 tickets remain for tonight's game. They can be purchased through Ticketmaster.

Mark Craig • [email protected]