By losing, Ravens give fans hope for draft win

On the Ravens

November 29, 2005|By MIKE PRESTON

The Ravens have met expectations. They will be playing meaningful games in December, and it's for No. 1, except it's for the top overall pick in the NFL draft in April.

Let the sweepstakes begin, and bring on the Houston Texans, Green Bay Packers, Minnesota Vikings and Cleveland Browns.

Ravens fans are in for some of the worst football the NFL has to offer, and the only consolation is jockeying for the draft. Do Ravens fans want a few more losses for a shot at Southern California running back Reggie Bush or Trojans quarterback Matt Leinart?

Or do they want a few more wins, so the team can continue to grow, as Ravens coach Brian Billick might suggest?

It's a case of two evils. The games will be ugly but interesting because no one wants the title of worst team in the NFL, certainly not Baltimore, which already struggles with an inferiority complex.

But after Sunday's games, only four teams had worse records than the 3-8 Ravens - Houston (1-10), the New York Jets, Packers and the San Francisco 49ers (all 2-9). The New Orleans Saints (3-8) are in contention, along with the Oakland Raiders and Browns, both at 4-7. And ready or not, here come the Ravens, still wobbly after losing a battle with old age this season.

What else is there to hold our attention?

The Kyle Boller experiment is unsuccessful and over. We all know the verdict: guilty of not being an NFL starter. Jamal Lewis can still run effectively, but he seems to be auditioning for teams other than the Ravens. We all know the interior lines need to be rebuilt, and the Ravens have to find some young help for the secondary.

Most of those issues probably won't be resolved until after the season, so we're left with talk about the college draft and five weeks of bad football. There is some intrigue, though.

Of the teams left on the Ravens' schedule, Houston and Green Bay seem almost certain to be looking for new coaches after the season, and Mike Tice's job might be on the line if the Vikings falter down the stretch. Then there is Billick, who also seems to be headed for the unemployment line.

But that's where the intrigue ends.

The games themselves won't make your heart flutter. Brett Favre comes to town Dec. 19 in what could be his farewell season, but the old Favre is just old and crazy. With no solid running game and no defense, he's just tossing the ball all over the field to anybody who might catch it. Favre already has 19 interceptions.

Do you think he feels guilty? Hell no.

But after Favre, not counting the rout that could happen in Denver, it goes downhill fast. There's the Browns in Cleveland on Jan. 1. Happy New Year. You can only visit the Pro Football Hall of Fame (in nearby Canton) and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame so many times. The story lines of Trent Dilfer and Phil Savage are now as old as Dilfer and won't make nearly as many comebacks. The Browns have the No. 21-ranked offense and No. 20-ranked defense.

They are sad, so sad.

The Vikings come to town on Christmas night. Boy, can't wait for that one. Forget the eggnog, fireplace, gifts and family. It's a great tradeoff to watch a Minnesota team struggling through an identity crisis against the Ravens, whose players are starting to develop mysterious injuries.

Bah, humbug.

There is only one other contest left, and that's Sunday's home game vs. the Texans. It will be the mother of all offenses. The Ravens are ranked No. 26, and the Texans are No. 31. It can't get much worse than this. Only two days ago, the Texans blew a 21-point lead as rookie quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick rallied the Rams for a 33-27 win. The Rams scored 10 points in the last 30 seconds of regulation. It was Fitzpatrick's first real, extensive playing time.

He's from Harvard, for God's sake.

The Ravens have their own problems. They have a head coach who after the Cincinnati loss was angry, belligerent and disillusioned. I still can't believe he said his team and quarterback actually grew after surrendering 34 points in three quarters to the Bengals.

It's almost like when he denied the 0-2 start after the Ravens won their first game of the season after the bye week. Remember that they were 1-0 as far as Billick was concerned. So, does that mean they're only 3-0 after the break and in first place in the conference race?

It's just a mind game, right?

So, that's what we're playing here. It's too painful to think about what is to come in the next five weeks. There's really nothing else to talk about except draft position. There is no quarterback debate because the Ravens don't have a quarterback. There are no playoff talks because the Ravens have no hope.

Some fans want the Ravens to lose so they can get the top pick and immediate help. Some fans don't want to see the losses mount. There is debate about whether to draft a running back or quarterback with the top pick, or trade down to acquire several offensive linemen.

Will it be Leinart or will it be Bush? Will the Ravens win their remaining games to push the team out of the possible No. 1 slot? Who knows? But that's all there is left to talk about in a season that has been a major bust.

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