Hardly historical

The Ravens' offense is averaging a mere 13.2 points, but it's certainly not the worst the NFL has ever seen.


Ravens' anemic offense hardly NFL's worst ever The Ravens' offense is bad, the most anemic in club history, perhaps the worst this city has seen from one of its professional football teams.

But is it historically bad, bad like the 1988 Orioles or the Jamaican bobsled team or Columbia football? Will future generations remember it as a paragon of awfulness?

A tour of the worst offenses in NFL history suggests the Ravens - averaging 13.2 points - have a way to go to reach a noteworthy nadir. They're not even the worst scoring offense in the NFL this season, having pulled ahead of the New York Jets by two points.

"They don't turn the ball over nearly enough to be the worst offense in the NFL this year, much less of all time," said Aaron Schatz, founder of the NFL analysis Web site Footballoutsiders.com.

It's hard to compare modern numbers to those before the rise of the passing game. But football historian Bob Carroll noted that the 1922 Hammond (Ind.) Pros failed to score at all in six games. The 1934 Cincinnati Reds did a bit better, but were outscored, 243-10, before disbanding.

Former Orioles statistics guru Eddie Epstein wrote a book in 2002 ranking the greatest pro football teams. As a side note, Epstein listed the five worst offenses in NFL history. The 1970 Boston Patriots led the way.

The 2-12 Patriots finished last in the league in scoring at 10.6 a game (and also pulled a rare double by leading the league in points allowed). They threw 28 interceptions to only seven touchdown passes.

But they face stiff competition for the title of least offensive.

Consider the 1974 Atlanta Falcons, coached by Hall of Fame quarterback Norm Van Brocklin.

They opened the season with a 24-0 loss to Dallas, and business never picked up. The Falcons were shut out twice more and failed to score more than 17 points in any game.

The Falcons didn't do anything well. Their leading passer, Bob Lee, totaled 852 yards and three touchdowns. Their leading rusher, Dave Hampton, managed only 464 yards. Their leading receiver, Ken Burrow, caught a mere 34 balls. Amazingly, the team sent two offensive linemen to the Pro Bowl.

Those Atlanta teams cohabited the pits of awfulness with their neighbors to the South, the New Orleans Saints. People always talk about what terrible outfits Archie Manning led, and the data bear it out.

The 1975 Saints finished last in scoring, 11.7 points a game, and last in total yardage. Manning, scrambling for his life most Sundays, tossed 20 interceptions to only seven touchdowns. The running game wasn't much better.

The expansion Tampa Bay Buccaneers of 1976 and '77 come next in the inventory of ineptitude. The Bucs finished last in points and yards both seasons. The winless '76 team was shut out five times and averaged 8.9 points. Quarterback Steve Spurrier threw only seven touchdown passes, and tailback Louis Carter, a former Maryland Terrapin, averaged 3 yards a carry.

Defensive end Pat Toomay wrote of the 0-14 team: "Injuries were part of our problem. Talent, of course, was another part, but it was impossible to tell how untalented we were because everybody was already hurt."

The 1977 team won twice but scored even fewer points, 7.4 a game. No quarterback threw for more than 900 yards, no runner exceeded 500 and no receiver caught more than 34 passes. The Bucs wasted many a good defensive effort, losing 10-0 three times and 9-3 once. The NFL was a low-scoring league that year, but the next-worst offense still outscored the Bucs by 31.

Tampa Bay's play drew some of the great quotes in NFL history from coach John McKay, who had arrived from a highly successful college run at Southern California.

"You do a lot of praying, but most of the time the answer is, `No,'" McKay, who died in 2001, said of the experience.

The gunslinging 1980s brought fewer memorably bad offenses, but check out the 1985 Bills. In a league where most teams scored more than 300 points, Buffalo scored 200, finishing 78 points behind the next-worst offense.

For those wondering about the 1981 Colts, they were bad, yes, the worst team ever by Epstein's reckoning. But Baltimore had only the third-worst scoring offense that year. Those Colts reached historical depths on defense, allowing 33 points a game.

As offensive numbers declined in the early 1990s, a string of scoreless wonders crossed the landscape. The 1990 Patriots finished last in the league in yards and averaged 11.3 points.

Boston Globe columnist Bob Ryan wrote of that team: "The Patriots belong in the Old Testament under the heading, `Unspeakable Disasters.' At this point, they would pray for locusts. Famine, plague and pestilence are far more appealing than a season-ending date with the New York Football Giants."

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