Square one right place for Ravens

October 22, 1999|By Ken Rosenthal

A packed house at PSINet Stadium. A national television audience on ESPN. And as embarrassing a performance as the Ravens have given in their brief and torturous history.

When will it end?

Not until the Ravens get a quarterback. Not until they start lining up with the right number of players on the field. Not until they stop trading draft picks for players they reject almost immediately.

The Tony Banks Era finally began with 10: 35 left in the fourth quarter and the Ravens trailing the Kansas City Chiefs, 28-0. We'd issue a formal thank you to coach Brian Billick, but his gift, if you want to call it that, came too late.

Leap of Faith II turned out about as well as Leap of Faith I, and Billick's honeymoon is growing shorter -- the sellout crowd booed repeatedly last night, and by the end of the Ravens' 35-8 defeat, the stands were nearly empty.

Ted Marchibroda must have been laughing out loud, assuming he didn't turn off his TV, like every other self-respecting football fan in America.

Stoney Case is not the answer. Stoney Case was never going to be the answer. And if Billick had pulled him for Banks with the Ravens down 7-0 at halftime, maybe the outcome would have been different. Or at least more interesting.

Like it or not, Billick is down to one option at quarterback in the Ravens' next game against Buffalo. Dare we say it? A Banks vs. Doug Flutie matchup might actually provide the kind of excitement the Ravens were seeking when they hired Billick.

Of course, Billick was in no mood to entertain such thoughts after what he called "as disappointing a game as I've ever been in." He's the coach with all the answers, the coach with 5,000 plays in his computer. And at the moment, he's stumped.

"This lack of offensive production is new to me," Billick said. "It's just a matter of regrouping and finding out what is the right combination for this team. Right now, we don't have it. I don't know what it is right now."

He has no players on offense. Everyone knows he has no players on offense. But if nothing else, the Ravens were supposed to improve week to week. And in the last three games, their point total has dropped from 19 to 11 to 8.

It was heartbreaking to see ESPN interview John Unitas on the sidelines after Case's third interception. The network also revealed that it was the sixth straight game that the Ravens had a completion percentage of less than 50 percent and fewer than 200 yards passing, the longest streak in the NFL since 1980.

Two of Case's interceptions were returned for touchdowns. The Chiefs dropped at least three more potential interceptions, and Case missed Brandon Stokley twice on potential touchdowns. And to think, all this happened on a night the defense held the Chiefs to 218 yards.

"Have at me," Case told reporters as he entered the interview room.

That wouldn't be fair -- Case is what he is, a guy the Ravens picked up off the street. He was facing a defense that has forced two or more turnovers in seven straight games. And of course, he was surrounded by equally limited offensive talent.

Still, the Ravens trailed only 7-0 at halftime, leading Billick to proclaim, "Everybody knows this is going to be a one-play type game at the end." If that was the case -- and it wasn't, thanks to Stoney -- then Banks would have given the Ravens a better chance to win.

Billick is right about one thing -- you can't just blame the quarterback. The Ravens' offensive line was beat up, and pass blocking is not its specialty to begin with. And the Ravens' receivers, well, their inability to separate from defensive backs is good for one thing -- it produces the occasional pass interference.

Remember when Billick said he would go 2-14 trying to make something happen before he would bleed at 6-10? Well, he isn't making something happen. And the most frustrating part is, there's no easy way for him to stop the bleeding.

Billick can talk all he wants about the lack of talent, but at some point, that is also his responsibility. The Ravens traded five draft picks for Banks (disliked by Billick), Scott Mitchell (benched by Billick) and Lovett Purnell (released). Does Billick's computer do subtraction by subtraction?

We'll grant Stoney every possible excuse. His line failed to protect him. His receivers couldn't get open. He was making only his fifth career start. But for heaven's sake, he completed only 15 of 37 passes for 103 yards, with three interceptions and no touchdowns.

He didn't deny he was awful.

"It was probably one of the most disappointing losses of my career, too," he said, echoing Billick's sentiment. "I can't even remember when it was this bad for me.

"I had no excuses. I didn't play very well. I didn't throw the ball very well. I threw it to them twice for touchdowns. It's just all out there. I just played terribly."

The only way Billick could justify starting Case against Buffalo is if he believes this career journeyman is the quarterback of the future. But why on earth would he believe that now? Banks, at least, looked decent in garbage time, completing eight of 14 passes for 69 yards.

A victory last night would have given the Ravens a .500 record after six games for only the second time in their history. But in their first three home games under Billick, they've produced their usual maddening loss to Pittsburgh, an uninspiring victory over Cleveland and last night's disaster.

For the season, their only two victories were against teams that are a combined 1-11. Another quarterback change would inspire another round of false hope, but eventually the fans will stop being fooled. The whole country saw it last night: This team has major problems.

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