Empty Grbac sees year as one long incomplete pass

Expected to be super, QB unsure of Ravens' fate after 3-interception finale

Steelers 27, Ravens 10

January 21, 2002|By Brent Jones | Brent Jones,SUN STAFF

PITTSBURGH - He led the Ravens to a 10-win season and a dominating playoff victory.

Yet, many will judge quarterback Elvis Grbac's year as a failure.

Count Grbac as one of them.

"Yeah, in my eyes, it is," Grbac said in the wake of his team's 27-10 divisional playoff loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field yesterday.

For Grbac, the result came nowhere near the expectations entering this season. He was supposed to be the guy who would jump-start a struggling passing game that performed well enough to win the Super Bowl under last season's quarterback, Trent Dilfer.

Instead, Grbac and the Ravens' offense had their worst showing, scoring no touchdowns, turning the ball over four times and netting 150 total yards.

Grbac was 18-for-37 for 153 yards, sacked three times and threw three interceptions in a game in which the Steelers' defense had him out of sync from the beginning. Probably Grbac's worst mistake of the season came late in the first quarter with the Ravens already down 10-0 but with the ball at the Steelers' 11.

Cornerback Chris McAlister had just intercepted Pittsburgh quarterback Kordell Stewart to set up the Ravens deep in Steelers territory. After a penalty and a 1-yard first-down run, Grbac tried to hit tight end Shannon Sharpe in the end zone, but the ball ended up right in the chest of Steelers safety Brent Alexander with 44 seconds left.

That would be the closest the Ravens would get to the goal line the rest of the day.

"The one in the end zone, I wish I could have had that one back," Grbac said. "We could have come away with three points or seven. We couldn't make those mistakes and overcome them."

The Ravens went three-and-out on three of their first six possessions. The other three ended in two interceptions and a fumble, either on the team's second or third play from scrimmage.

The running game was nonexistent (22 yards on 11 carries), and Pittsburgh dominated time of possession (40:45 to 19:15).

It was such a disheartening offensive showing that Grbac could not say whether he felt he would be back with the Ravens next season. Grbac signed a five-year, $30 million deal less than a year ago.

"I hope I'm back. We've got a good football team, and I believe we've got a good offense," Grbac said. "We just have to iron some things out, but hopefully I'll be back."

Does he expect to be?

"We'll see," Grbac said.

Ravens coach Brian Billick has expressed his confidence in Grbac all season, and again yesterday Billick never switched to backup Randall Cunningham.

"There would have been no purpose in that," Billick said.

"Any quarterback is going to be hampered to a degree by the things going on around him - protection, lack of running game, dropped balls, tipped balls. Yeah I could have put Randall in and had tipped balls and dropped balls and holding calls and missed assignments. And it would not have changed things. It is just oversimplistic to point at the quarterback."

The Ravens dropped six passes, and the offense was called for false starts three times.

"We got into a situation where we made too many mistakes early in the ballgame and our running game wasn't really clicking," Grbac said. "Give Pittsburgh's defense credit, they played extremely well."

And consequently, Grbac did not.

"I am not willing to sit here and place all the blame on Elvis," said Sharpe, who has given forthright assessments of Grbac's play in the past. "You can look at it from an offensive standpoint. Offensively, nobody came to play today."

But in the end, the quarterback is the one who will get the credit or the blame for how his team finishes.

Dilfer won the Super Bowl last season, and Grbac always knew to expect criticism if he did not do the same.

"Like I said from the beginning, when I got here, the only mind-set is to win the championship, win the Super Bowl," Grbac said. "And if you come up short, you are a failure. And the thing is, there is only one champion, and everybody else gets to a certain point but they don't get the ring.

"My play [yesterday] didn't help this team win at all."

Stalled offense

The Ravens won the first five playoff games in franchise history using an efficient, ball-control offense. Yesterday, the offense fell apart against the Steelers. Here are the Ravens' playoff averages in key offensive categories for the first five postseason games compared to yesterday:

Statistic ........................... First 5 ....................... Yesterday

First downs ....................... 12.8 ................................ 7

3rd-down eff. .................... 32.9 pct. ....................... 8.3 pct.

Net yards ......................... 249.4 .............................. 150

Rush yards ...................... 123.6 ............................... 22

Turnovers ............................ 0.6 ................................. 4

Possession time ............... 31:42 .............................. 19:15

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