In an awful flop, offense fouls up

Colts 24, Ravens 7

Ravens Gameday

September 12, 2005|By David Steele

INDIANAPOLIS Colts linebacker Cato June raced toward the end zone with less than three minutes left in the game, untouched by Ravens tacklers. He was not distracted by the boos and shouts of the angry home fans. Or the sight of them, either. Not unless he could see the parking lots and overpasses, where the faithful had long ago given up in disgust.

By the time the Ravens' "offense," for lack of a better term, re-took the field, the scoreboard read Colts 24, Ravens 0, and the reverse turnstile-count read roughly 60,000 of the record 70,501 that had come in such anticipation. By the time the Colts' offense made its return - after yet another turnover, the Ravens' fourth - there weren't even enough fans left in M&T Bank Stadium to fill up the aisles as they were leaving.

Yes, you read in this space just yesterday that it's dangerous to put too much weight on the first game of a long season, and that the hype and emotion can outrun reality quickly. That concept still stands. But even without that context, what happened last night was awful.

There may be doubt about how far behind the contenders the Ravens are, but there's little doubt that they are behind the leaders. On their home field, with the spotlight they crave, in front of a crowd starving for vengeance and panting with expectation, the Ravens fell flat on their faces right in front of one of the teams holding up the bar they're trying to reach.

Actually, a beating this thorough actually does the Colts a disservice. The Ravens looked so bad, no one can truly tell if the defense has caught up to the Super Bowl-caliber offense. The Colts' defense is going to need a better test than this Ravens offense to prove its worth.

However, every red flag raised in the preseason about the problems of the Ravens' offense proved accurate - and worse, turned into a shrill alarm bell. That wasn't a mirage; it wasn't a matter of the previous games not counting or of the offensive unit playing for less than a half and without its key parts, making it impossible to judge. This was a unit looking, again, as if they'd just met yesterday morning.

Last night, coach Brian Billick said, the offense was "not good enough." Left unanswered is whether it ever will be good enough - if nothing else, if it will be worthy of the defense. The game last night picked up where last season left off, with the best chance of putting points on the board in the hands of the defense, one that might be legendary if it can manage so much as a wild-card berth despite the anchor its offense has become.

That literally was the case last night. In the final seconds of the first half, cornerback Chris McAlister had a Peyton Manning pass in his hands at the opposite goal line, but the ball ricocheted off McAlister's palms. The fans let out a gasp of disappointment that reflected a sense that there weren't going to be many better opportunities the rest of the way.

By then, the Ravens' defense had proved it was not only great, but special - and the offense was showing signs that, for the umpteenth straight season, that special unit would be wasted, not unlike the Colts' offense had been wasted in recent years because of an inferior defense.

Who could tell, though, whether the Colts' defense had been upgraded enough to legitimize the talk about a long-awaited Super Bowl? The Ravens' offense was absolutely brutal in the first half, up until the moment quarterback Kyle Boller went down, well into the second half. At that point the Ravens were down 17-0, but it might as well have been 37-0.

Inappropriate as the thought was, the exit of Boller thanks to a hit from the back by a nearly untouched Larry Tripplett late in the third quarter sent a jolt of anticipation through the stands. It would be nice to believe that it wasn't a wish for Boller to have been injured seriously, but unfortunately that can't be ruled out. What definitely was true was that the reaction - and the roar that went up when Boller was helped off and Anthony Wright ran to the huddle - came from desperation and a deepening despair.

Of course, when Wright ended up turning it over three times - an interception at the goal line and a fumble sandwiched around June's touchdown return - the glimmer of hope was snuffed out.

Who plays next week in Tennessee remains to be seen, but the sight of Boller on crutches in the locker room with a big wrap on his right big toe might be a hint. "It's definitely sore," he said. "I'm not putting any pressure on it."

The same can't be said about the rest of the faithful. Sore, yes. But if the Ravens aren't feeling pressure now after a flop of this magnitude, they'll be feeling it any minute now.

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