Passion is missing in Ravens' unemotional 1-1 start

September 24, 2001|By Mike Preston

CINCINNATI - The cracks of complacency are starting to show. The passion and emotion that led the Ravens to the Super Bowl title have yet to appear in 2001.

And this is a team that can't afford to lose that element. The Ravens don't have running back Jamal Lewis around anymore. Actually, they don't have a lot of offense, period. But what they had last season was a terrific defense, a strong kicking game and few turnovers, and they played with so much passion.

Not this year.

It wasn't on display in a season-opening 17-6 win against the Chicago Bears two weeks ago, and it wasn't there yesterday in a 21-10 loss to the sorry Cincinnati Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium.

There has been talk about the Bengals being a much improved team from a season ago, but they still stink. Cincinnati's Neil Rackers missed field-goal attempts of 43, 39 and 45 yards yesterday. Returner Peter Warrick fumbled a punt in the third quarter, leading to the touchdown that pulled the Ravens within 14-10 with 13:40 left in the game.

The Bengals had only 203 yards of total offense, and had too many players on the field three times (once for a penalty). They had offensive linemen blocking downfield on passing plays, and were only 3-for-13 on third-down conversions.

But as poorly as Cincinnati played, the Ravens were worse. This offense had the same stench as Ted Marchibroda's. Brandon Stokley dropped a pass, as did Qadry Ismail and Terry Allen. Patrick Johnson dropped two. He also fumbled the opening kickoff of the second half, which set up one Bengals touchdown in the third quarter, and tight end Todd Heap's fumble after a reception set up another less than four minutes later.

Fumbles are excusable, but a lack of passion isn't.

Emotionally, the Ravens have been dead for two games. They have lacked intensity since coming out of training camp. Maybe there have been too many off-season speaking engagements, or too many helicopters flying players and coaches in and out of the Ravens' training complex.

Maybe the HBO Hard Knocks caused a distraction, or maybe the Ravens have spent too much time looking at their Super Bowl rings and feeling good about themselves. But in two games this season, the real Ravens, especially that defensive line that was so lethargic in training camp, hasn't showed up.

Heck, several times Bengals quarterback Jon Kitna had time to knit sweaters for both Tony Siragusa and Sam Adams.

The Ravens need to regain their edge.

"I can't say the turnovers," said Ravens tight end Shannon Sharpe. "They came out ready to play football and we didn't. When you turn the football over and you don't play with emotion and passion, that's what happens to you. The thing we tried to prevent was not coming out lackadaisical like we did against Chicago. We came out the same exact way, and it cost us. We have to get things fixed in a hurry. We've got to get going."

It's going to be hard to fix this offense. The Ravens have no running game. In two games, Allen has 98 yards on 37 carries, and maybe two broken tackles. Go ahead, you do the math. Play-action passes? They are a joke because teams don't respect the Ravens' running game.

Yesterday, offensive line play was just as bad. Starting right guard Kipp Vickers took his rightful place on the bench in the first half. He was replaced by rookie Bennie Anderson, who played just about as poorly as center Mike Flynn and right tackles Sammy and Erik Williams.

Few of the receivers could get open, and neither of the two young outside receivers, Stokley or Travis Taylor, were major factors (weren't they supposed to contribute a lot this season?). Johnson was inconsistent, as usual, but the most disturbing play occurred with 4:02 left in the half. Johnson appeared to have caught a 9-yard touchdown pass while sprinting across the back of the end zone, but the play was nullified because Johnson went out of bounds on the back line before returning to catch the pass.

Question: After playing in the NFL for four years, shouldn't Johnson know where he is on the field? And how could he run four to five steps out of bounds? Hello, earth calling Patrick.

With inconsistent receivers, no running game and no pass protection, that left Grbac as target practice for Cincinnati. He threw a team-record 63 times for 326 yards. He started off well, but by the third quarter his passes were way off the mark. He had one interception that killed a Ravens drive in the end zone with 2:04 left in the half, and linebacker Takeo Spikes returned an interception for a 66-yard touchdown that sealed the game for the Bengals with 6:04 left in the game.

The beating took its toll.

"We still had a chance to win the game," Sharpe said. "We're on the 5- or 6-yard line [in the first half], had about seven or eight snaps, and we came away with nothing, no touchdown, no field goal. We can't do that.

"We had a chance to go up 10-0 at the half, but it was only 3-0. Then the other team starts to believe. They start to feel good about themselves and all of a sudden, it's like, `Hey we got the world champions on the ropes.' They went in for the knockout and they did it."

Sharpe wasn't done. "We couldn't run the ball," he said. "We tell Elvis to go back there and throw the ball 60 times, but 48 to 50 times he is back there running for his life. We've got to go back to the drawing board and look at what we did wrong, which was everything, and what we did right, which was nothing."

The Ravens don't have a lot of time to figure out their problems. They travel to Denver next week, play host to Tennessee at home, then travel to Green Bay. Thirty-eight games into the Billick era, the Ravens' offense is still having problems.

That was his forte. Bringing a passion to this franchise was No. 2. But in the first two games, the passion has been missing in action.

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