Billick should clench teeth, stick with Banks

November 01, 1999|By John Eisenberg

He missed on 21 of his 34 pass attempts, failed to produce a point in the last three quarters and committed two late turnovers that cost the Ravens the game.

Tony Banks didn't do any better than Scott Mitchell or Stoney Case in his debut as the Ravens' starting quarterback yesterday.

He certainly didn't play well enough to force Ravens coach Brian Billick to commit to him as the starter for the rest of the season.

But that's Billick's only option in the wake of a crushing loss to the Bills that left the Ravens with a 2-5 record as they embark on a three-game road trip.

Billick obviously would rather play almost anyone but Banks -- still got that wristband, Tom Matte? -- but it's time to stop the quarterback flip-flop (flop-flop, actually) and give Banks the job for the rest of the year.

Don't confuse that with a long-term endorsement; if anything, Banks' performance yesterday made it clear beyond any doubt that the Ravens have to draft a new, young quarterback next spring and start building around him.

But for the rest of this season, which is headed nowhere in a hurry, Banks is the only viable choice.

"We'll see," Billick said when asked if Banks would start the franchise's latest crusade game next week in Cleveland, but he has no other options for that game or any other this season.

He certainly can't go back to Mitchell, whose lack of mobility is a bad fit for Billick's offense and whose age (31) is a bad fit for a team that needs to stop patching at quarterback.

For the last time, what Billick was thinking in the first place when he brought in Mitchell is anyone's guess.

Nor can Billick go back to Case, 27, a career backup who is no one's idea of a long-term answer.

That leaves Banks, who is relatively young (26), nimble, strong-armed and experienced -- a package of qualities that, at the very least, has the potential to grow.

The problem, of course, is that Billick wants no part of Banks, even though he traded for Banks just six months ago. That was painfully obvious after yesterday's loss.

Discussing Banks' key fumble, which occurred when a Buffalo defender ran him down from behind and knocked the ball free, Billick said it was the result of "a lack of awareness that [Banks] has that someone might be chasing him down."

Notice that Billick wasn't referring to a lack of awareness on that one play, but to a general lack of awareness on Banks' part.


Billick also couldn't help himself when asked if the fumble-prone Banks had been taught to worry about protecting the ball in his first three years as a pro.

"Yes, and in two years prior to that in college and two years prior to that in junior college and three years prior to that in high school and however far back he has played," Billick said.

Double ouch.

Billick never would have criticized Mitchell or Case in such a way, but he didn't mind giving Banks the cheap shot.

Please. The reality is that Banks, while hardly playing well yesterday, wasn't as horrendous as the other two. He made some nice throws, had several passes dropped and, as usual, was hampered by his receivers' inability to get open.

He fumbled on a terrific play by Buffalo's Gabe Northern, and he threw his only interception after being hit while in the process of throwing the ball away.

It sure beat throwing two interceptions for touchdowns, as Case did in the Ravens' previous game, against the Chiefs.

Banks wasn't the least bit encouraged, as well he shouldn't have been after failing to produce any points in the Ravens' last 10 possessions.

"It's not what I expected," he said. "It's certainly not what I went to bed dreaming about last night. I could have played a lot better. It seems like we're all taking turns making mistakes."

The fumble? "It was a great play by him [Northern] and a not-so-great play by me. I can feel Coach Billick's disappointment," he said.

His interception? "The guy hit me and the ball fluttered out," he said.

If Billick does go ahead and commit to Banks for the rest of the season, it's a 50-50 proposition that Billick will survive the season without injuring his head banging it on the locker-room wall. The coach who loves to script and control almost can't even watch the quarterback who tends to free-lance.

But Billick was the one who painted himself into this corner by wasting his first two options on Mitchell and Case, and now it's up to him to swallow hard and commit to the only quarterback on his roster with any potential to help the franchise in the long run, either as a starter or backup.

Billick was the one, remember, who said before the season that changing quarterbacks all the time was bad for a team, that consistency at the game's most important position was "essential."

That was, let's see, two quarterback changes ago.

There's nothing to lose by committing to Banks, that's for sure, not with games against Jacksonville, Tennessee and Pittsburgh looming in the next four weeks.

It's official: The Ravens have experienced yet another October swoon after a 2-2 start, upholding their tradition of never having won in games 5, 6 or 7.

Once again, it's time to start thinking about next season and beyond.

And it's time to stop changing quarterbacks every week.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.