Unjustified behavior means Ravens are bad excuse for team

Lions 35, Ravens 17

Game Day

Ravens Gameday

October 10, 2005|By DAVID STEELE

DETROIT — Detroit-- --They lost their composure, and because of it they lost the game. Then, those who bothered sticking around to answer for themselves started hinting that the officials took the game from them.

Yesterday at Ford Field, they were worse than the Same Old Ravens. They were the Same Old Raiders.

This comes from someone who spent much of the past five years in Oakland, watching talent-laden rosters implode at crucial moments, then offer two explanations for their slip-ups: aggressiveness and the NFL's conspiracy against them. Pride, yes; poise, not often enough; excuses, by the bunch.

Are these Ravens that bad? If yesterday's 35-17 humiliation by the Detroit Lions was any indication, they're pretty close. It wasn't so much the 21 penalties; they've had their sloppy moments this year, dating back to the preseason. It was the high percentage of dumb, pointless penalties, avoidable merely by shutting up and walking away.

Losing a game, even to a bad team, happens sometimes. But taunting, late hitting, cursing, flashing obscene gestures, jumping in opponents' faces, bumping officials, hurling footballs at restraining walls -- that's unprofessional. That indicates immaturity. It reflects pathetically poor discipline.

It was a virus that ran through the roster, from Pro Bowl players to special teams players -- but in the end, responsibility lies with the head coach. To his credit, in the moments after a historic taint to the legacy of pro football in this city, Brian Billick answered more questions than he wanted to. But he'll have a lot more to answer in the coming days and the rest of the season.

The questions that arose from this totally eclipse the old concerns about the offense. If these Ravens can't resist the urge to go off on an official after a critical call, who cares how efficient the quarterback is? Worse, if they can't even recognize that they caused their own mess, how are they going to clean it up?

Never was this more evident than during those 9 minutes and 38 seconds of game time in the third quarter, the length of the Lions' touchdown drive that essentially put the game away. It was the most shameful 10-minute stretch in franchise history. It wasn't the only time in the game that the Ravens' composure abandoned them; it was just the worst time, and the most concentrated burst.

The details are too familiar by now, although no one should ever be allowed to forget that the Ravens managed to get two players thrown out, on separate plays during one possession, including after an extra point, and both for the same reason -- not for fighting, but for bumping the referee. Terrell Suggs did it "with malice in his heart," the ref later said.

"Inexcusable" doesn't begin to describe a stretch like that.

At that point, the Lions were trying to give them the game, and the home crowd was fully expecting them to do it. Apparently the Ravens were cursing at the officials, fans and football gods too loudly to notice. Pop Warner players have shown more poise in the face of pressure.

"Giving in to the emotion of the situation" is how Billick described it. And, they'll all tell you, there's nothing wrong with emotion.

"It's an emotional game. You can never determine how your emotions are going to go," Ray Lewis told a crowd around his locker. Actually, championship teams determine exactly that. This team is 1-3, and it just played so out of control, you wonder how it got that one win.

Lewis also was one of the primary finger-pointers, and the chorus he sang with Billick ("We have no structure right now in the league for me to comment on the officiating in an appropriate way") and some of his teammates made for a sad tune.

"You just hope [the officials] get critiqued the same way we do," Lewis said.

Lewis should know better. He should be bigger than that. But at least he stuck around to talk. Some key players made themselves as scarce afterward as their composure had been on the field.

There were plenty running their mouths last week at M&T Bank Stadium after beating the beat-up New York Jets. They had lots to say about fan behavior and about stories in the paper. All of that after their first win of the season.

But if they didn't think they owed their public an explanation this week, they know to whom they have to answer from now on -- those demanding faces in their mirrors.

Can they even look into those mirrors and call the player they see in it "professional"? Can they promise that if they get outplayed, outworked or out-coached, that they can at least keep their heads in the game?

It doesn't seem like too much to ask. Until yesterday, it wasn't.

david.steele@baltsun.com

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