Fresh start sours in hurry

Billick era picks up where Ravens left off as Rams' castoff rules

Perfect preseason crumbles

Mitchell has awful day, but plenty of company

Rams 27, Ravens 10

September 13, 1999|By Mike Preston | Mike Preston,SUN STAFF

ST. LOUIS -- The new era of Ravens football looked painfully similar to the old one.

Quarterback Scott Mitchell was as ineffective as Jim Harbaugh. The offensive line was inept, but yesterday there was no Wally Williams or Orlando Brown to blame. An inexperienced secondary was burned for 316 yards passing by a quarterback named Kurt Warner, who had completed only four passes in the league before yesterday's game, his first as a starter.

One might say these were the same old Ravens after yesterday's embarrassing 27-10 loss to the St. Louis Rams before 62,100 at the Trans World Dome, but that might be an insult to the 1998 team. After going unbeaten in four preseason games under first-year coach Brian Billick and creating a hysteria that hasn't been seen in Baltimore since the franchise moved to the city nearly four years ago, the Ravens came to grips with reality yesterday.

This team has few playmakers and only one showed up yesterday in middle linebacker Ray Lewis. As several members of the Ravens' front office walked off the field, there was anguish and disappointment on the reddened face of team president David Modell, but still a calmness and confidence about Billick.

"To a degree, I'm concerned about the team's psyche, but that's my job to get them ready every week," Billick said. "I can get them ready as a team, get them focused, but they are also going to have to handle this individually. All we can do is come back after something like this and regroup on Monday and decide what happened and make our corrections and get ready for Pittsburgh. You don't have enough paper to list my frustrations."

The frustration reached its peak in the fourth quarter when cornerback DeRon Jenkins blitzed and forced a fumble by Warner that the Ravens recovered at the Rams' 30-yard line with 11: 13 remaining and trailing only 17-10. But running back Priest Holmes, who looked indecisive most of the day, was tackled for a 6-yard loss on a screen pass.

On second down, Mitchell was pressured by defensive end Kevin Carter and threw the ball away. On third down, Mitchell threw short to Justin Armour. Matt Stover's 54-yard field-goal attempt was wide right, and the Rams' Jeff Wilkins then showed Stover how it is done by kicking a 51-yarder on St. Louis' next possession.

Warner secured the game for St. Louis with a 20-yard touchdown pass to Torry Holt with 2: 40 left in the game.

"It looked like the Philadelphia game [preseason opener]," Billick said of his offense, which had only 223 yards. "Lack of execution. When you are on the road there are certain things and certain calls that are going to be tough. That's no excuse. We have executed better and performed better. We have shown that, so I am very disappointed across the board, not just offensively."

But let's start with the offense. Mitchell's performance was horrendous. He completed 17 of 40 passes for 188 yards and one touchdown, a 28-yarder to Brandon Stokley to pull the Ravens within 17-10 with 15 seconds left in the third quarter.

He constantly threw behind receivers or overthrew them and several times fumbled while in the fetal position when the pocket was about to collapse, including one time when he tried to switch hands while being tackled. His most inexcusable mistake came three plays after Lewis intercepted a Warner pass intended for Ricky Proehl and returned it 60 yards to the Rams' 33 with 17 seconds left in the first quarter.

On third-and-six, Mitchell escaped pressure up the middle and started to run. But at the last second he shuffled a pass over the head of fullback Chuck Evans to his right that was intercepted by cornerback Todd Lyght, who lateraled to Taje Allen, who ran 36 yards down to the Ravens' 41.

Adding injury to insult, the Ravens lost Pro Bowl left tackle Jonathan Ogden on the play when he bruised his left hip while trying to make a tackle. Ogden's condition will be evaluated daily, but the Ravens had a hard time recovering from Mitchell's mistake. The Rams turned it into a touchdown when tight end Roland Williams beat safety Kim Herring in the right corner of the end zone for a 6-yard pass and 10-0 lead.

"I moved up in the pocket," Mitchell said. "The guy that was covering Chuck was coming around and tried to tackle me. I just tried to flip the ball up over the guy. It just wasn't a smart play in that situation. I was trying to make a play. The biggest thing is not to panic. We've got 15 games left. This isn't a sprint. It's a marathon. The troops have to rally together."

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