5 Pro Bowl players, 5 wins: That's nothing to shout about

December 17, 1998|By John Eisenberg

There's a clear lesson in yesterday's news that five Ravens have been elected to the Pro Bowl:

This is a team that has underachieved, perhaps more than any other team in the NFL this season.

That's obvious now after the Pro Bowl balloting indicated that the Ravens have more superior talent than many of the league's best teams.

Basically, the Ravens, even with all their shortcomings, have no business sitting in fourth place in the AFC Central with a 5-9 record, playing out the string of a third straight losing season.

Five Pro Bowl picks, five wins. What a devastating equation for the entire organization.

Give the Ravens credit for accumulating so many players of such high quality, but what's the point if you can't mold them into a winning team?

In other words, what little chance Ravens coach Ted Marchibroda had of keeping his job just evaporated.

Not that his future was still in doubt after losses to Tennessee and Minnesota dropped his record with the Ravens to 15-30-1. You have to do better than that to stay employed, as Marchibroda knows.

But the fact that he will leave behind a team with five Pro Bowl players -- six if alternate Peter Boulware gets in -- indicts him like no other piece of evidence.

Talk about a smoking gun.

Five is a big Pro Bowl number. A huge Pro Bowl number.

The Packers, defending NFC champions, have five Pro Bowl players this year. The Cowboys, probable winners of the NFC East, also have five. So do the Falcons, winners of 12 of 14 games so far.

Only two other AFC teams, the Broncos and Bills, had more than five.

All those teams either have locked up a playoff spot or are close. Again, the lesson is painfully obvious:

At the very least, a team with five Pro Bowl players should be around .500 and in playoff contention in December.

It should never, ever be all but eliminated halfway through the season, as the Ravens were this year.

The Ravens are the NFL's biggest bust in 1998, according to the Pro Bowl voting.

They have more Pro Bowl players than the 49ers, Jaguars, Dolphins, Steelers and Jets, but they're going nowhere.

It's hard to believe, isn't it? If someone had told you in August that the Ravens would have more Pro Bowl players than the 49ers, you would have bet him a million dollars that he was wrong. How ridiculous.

Well hello, ridiculous.

Granted, two of the five Ravens, Bennie Thompson and Jermaine Lewis, were elected for their play on special teams. Only Michael McCrary, Ray Lewis and Jonathan Ogden were elected as starters on offense or defense. Three starters isn't a totally outlandish number for a losing team.

But let's not make excuses. If ever there was a day not to make excuses, this is it.

It doesn't matter if five Ravens make the Pro Bowl for selling peanuts in the upper deck. Five is too many for a 5-9 team.

That's not to say the Ravens are a Super Bowl contender gone awry. Their overall talent level isn't so high. They have holes in their secondary and offensive line and at the skill positions. They have gotten spotty play at quarterback, the most important position.

Anyone who thinks this is a supremely talented team is deluding himself.

Still, a winning cornerstone exists in Ogden, Boulware, Lewis, Lewis and McCrary. Those are some of the league's best, young players, according to their peers.

And their talent was wasted this year.

The good news is Ravens owner Art Modell is more likely now to attract top candidates to replace Marchibroda. Five Pro Bowl picks and Boulware are quite a package. You can be sure there are quality coaches who will think they can come in and build around that.

The Ravens just became a more legitimate place for such a coach to land next year.

As for now, you knew a sore spot had been hit yesterday when the Ravens started releasing prepared statements instead of fielding questions.

"This is a tribute to the players," said Ozzie Newsome, the team's vice president of player personnel, in a statement.

Actually, it's a tribute to Newsome, who drafted four of the six players. But it's also a tribute to the players, yes. There was a celebration in the locker room at Owings Mills. The election of Thompson, an old-pro, all-heart warrior, was particularly popular.

But while there was plenty of individual happiness, there was overall organizational agony. One Pro Bowl player per win is an equation that doesn't add up. It speaks to a lack of leadership and glue, a fundamental flaw in the system, a scheme in need of change.

It reveals the Ravens for exactly what they are: a team that should be jockeying for playoff position, not draft position.

A team that should have had a better season, period.

Five wins and five Pro Bowl picks? The math is simple, actually. If you divide one number into the other, what do you get? One, of course. As in one head coaching change, finalized beyond any doubt now.

Pub Date: 12/17/98

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