Playing out string is idea all in knots

November 24, 1997|By John Eisenberg

It is ridiculous to suggest that the Ravens have nothing left to play for in 1997 after losing again yesterday to fall out of the playoff picture.

These are the Ravens we're talking about, friends, not the Packers or Broncos or Cowboys.

They were never more than a "Where's Waldo" in the playoff picture, anyway, and they still have plenty to prove, regardless of their place in the standings.

They still have to prove that they can occasionally win a game, for instance.

Oh, that.

Wouldn't that be a nice holiday gift to a city that shelled out $220 million to steal them?

They don't have to win all of their games down the stretch.

Shoot, they don't even have to win half.

No one is going to get greedy at this point, with the Ravens having won only eight of 28 games since leaving Cleveland -- and only one of eight since September.

But they do need to prove that they're going to do something other than blow a close game every week.

They need to prove they aren't going to get sucked right down the drain of this losing cycle.

There's reason to wonder after yesterday's 16-13 loss to the Cardinals.

It was another new low, the Ravens' third in three weeks.

This one was even worse than last week's 10-10 tie/loss to the Eagles, which was even worse than the 37-0 loss in Pittsburgh two weeks ago.

Sorry if that's getting complicated, but the Ravens are running a clinic on how to lose against all odds, and it keeps getting worse.

The Cardinals were a last-place team that hadn't won on the road in 378 days, and they were playing a rookie quarterback, Jake Plummer.

Their coach, Vince Tobin, had never beaten an AFC opponent.

So what happened? The usual. The Ravens stumbled around on offense for most of the game, missed a chance to score a winning touchdown at the end, settled for a tying field goal, then watched Plummer lead a manic drive to set up a last-second, game-winning field goal.

It was a mild variation on last week's theme of lost opportunity, but basically the same thing.

Once again, the Ravens proved only that they know how not to win.

They can't even beat bad teams at home now.

And they have nothing left to play for in 1997?

Get serious.

How about winning a game for a change? At the wages they're earning, the Ravens can play for that.

How about making a big defensive stop to protect a lead at the end? Or delivering a clutch drive leading to a winning score?

Just one of either will do, thank you; just one example of the winning knack.

At this point, if the Ravens have any knack at all, it's a knack for discovering new ways to lose.

If they have any habit at all, it's the losing habit.

The last month of the season would be a nice time to start turning that around.

A nice time to start erasing the losing habit that's so ingrained in them now.

"You have to get that taste [of winning] in your mouth," linebacker Ray Lewis said. "You have to learn how to finish teams off when you have them down."

You have to start somewhere, in other words. You can't just keep losing and losing and losing.

If you're going to become a winning team -- and goodness knows, the Ravens have talked enough about that this season -- you have to win occasionally.

No, wins don't mean as much after a team is knocked out of the playoffs, because less is at stake.

But the Ravens can't afford to be picky.

They haven't won enough to be able to be picky.

And they certainly haven't won enough to sigh heavily and start playing out the string when they fall out of the playoff picture.

It's not as if they were going to the Super Bowl.

They were a first-round playoff loser at best this season, if absolutely everything went right.

Instead, a lot of things went wrong.

Not exactly a shock, but disappointing, nonetheless.

"The worst thing about this [loss] is that we're out of it now," coach Ted Marchibroda said. "There's no question about it, that's the big thing, the only thing that matters."

Marchibroda was obviously not happy at all after watching his team fail to win for a second straight week after leading at the start of the fourth quarter.

"We missed opportunities and we don't play smart football," he said. "Playing hard and playing tough is one thing, but you also have to play smart."

That was the head coach, normally upbeat to a fault, saying unflattering things about his team -- and sending a message to his players loud and clear.

That message? Anyone who thinks there's nothing left to play for this season is dead wrong.

The Ravens are losing games, blowing chances, not playing smart football.

They were guilty of the same sins a year ago, and almost half the players lost their jobs.

The same thing could happen again after this season, as the Ravens stumble down the stretch.

A team this good at losing is a team that will not be kept intact.

No way.

If any of the Ravens think they have nothing left to play for in 1997, they had better think again.

Pub Date: 11/24/97

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