Even routs ring hollow in lost season

ON THE NFL

December 21, 2005|By MIKE PRESTON

The Ravens are at the point of the season where victories have become hollow. Word of the Ravens' 48-3 win against the Green Bay Packers Monday night was greeted with, "Oh, that's nice" when most of the city woke up yesterday morning.

Any Ravens win this season has to be put in perspective. They've beaten the New York Jets, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Houston and Green Bay. With the exception of the Steelers, all of those teams have losing records. In the final week of the season, Houston, Green Bay and New York could be battling for the overall No. 1 pick in the NFL draft in April.

So, it's easy to understand why Ravens coach Brian Billick has been subdued the past two days. Unlike some diehard fans who want to make Kyle Boller the quarterback of the future again after an impressive performance against the Packers, both Billick and general manager Ozzie Newsome are aware of the work to be done between now and the start of next season.

Nobody is beating on their chests over at The Castle in Owings Mills.

Even if the Ravens (5-9) beat Minnesota (8-6) at home on Christmas night and Cleveland (5-9) on the road the following week, nothing can hide the disappointment of the 2005 season.

Two games stick out from 2005. There was the 25-10 loss to Tennessee in Game 2 in which the Ravens were unprepared to play, and the other was the 35-17 loss to Detroit in Game 4 when the Ravens were out of control and undisciplined. Those games should draw immediate focus at the end of the season because those losses set the tone.

This is not to say that positives can't be taken away from the massacre of Green Bay (3-11). The Ravens needed a muscle-flexing game like that one. The offensive line looks better every week, particularly on the right side with second-year guard Brian Rimpf and third-year right tackle Tony Pashos. They still have room for a lot of improvement, but there's been progress.

Rookie receiver Mark Clayton, the team's No. 1 draft pick, has played well the past three games, and is slowly developing into a force that might eventually cause teams to game plan for him. Defensively, Newsome has been criticized for recent drafts, but young reserve defensive tackles Aubrayo Franklin and Dwan Edwards are making impacts.

Boller had to be the topic of conversation yesterday. He played his best game as a pro against Green Bay completing 19 of 27 passes for 253 yards and three touchdowns. He didn't fall down. He only mishandled one snap from center. He had touch on intermediate passes, and actually connected with receivers in stride even though he continues to throw high.

But, let's keep it real. Boller isn't playing for the No. 1 position in Baltimore next season, but to hang around as a No. 2. The Ravens made the mistake of counting on him as the starter in 2005, and that shouldn't happen again. The Ravens are already exploring plans to upgrade at the position possibly with a veteran free agent.

Boller had a great game, but it was the Packers. It hurts to say it, but admit it. It was the Packers. Green Bay came into the game with the NFL's fifth-ranked defense, but on Monday night the Packers became the first of the league's worst teams to officially quit. San Francisco hasn't, and neither has Tennessee.

But Green Bay? Oh, it's pretty much done for the season.

Boller looked like he was running a seven-on-seven drill against a practice squad. Never have so many Ravens receivers been open. On third-and-long situations, Ravens receivers often ran unchallenged across the middle. Tight end Todd Heap was unstoppable, once catching a pass 2 yards off the line of scrimmage and running 12 yards before he was touched.

Green Bay had problems getting its players lined up. Linebackers and linemen kept reporting late into the huddle. The Packers allowed one of the worst offenses during the past five years to chew them up for 435 total yards. Ravens running back Jamal Lewis ran for 105 yards, and he'll run hard against Minnesota. Lewis auditions well on national TV. If the Packers had any life in them before the game, they didn't have any after it started because Lewis came to play.

It's a shame Green Bay didn't.

It's sad that Packers quarterback Brett Favre couldn't.

You felt bad for Favre. The old gunslinger is just a slinger. One time Monday night he threw a pass with his eyes closed, and his head down. Either his decision-making is as poor as any quarterback's in the league is, or he just doesn't give a darn. He threw into double, triple and quadruple coverage. If safety Ed Reed could catch, he would have had three interceptions. Cornerback Deion Sanders' interception of a Favre pass looked like an early Christmas present that the two discussed before the game.

Who says that only pro wrestling is scripted?

On a cold evening when Favre was the headline attraction in a season gone bad for two of the NFL's most storied cities, Baltimore fans should have demanded a refund because of Favre's play. By halftime, M&T Bank Stadium was starting to empty out. Late in the game, the MNF TV crew was showing footage of the old Colts at Memorial Stadium in games against the Kansas City Chiefs and Oakland Raiders.

It had gotten that cold, and the game had gotten that bad.

But the Ravens won, further reducing their chances of getting a top five pick in the draft in a few months. From the team's standpoint, a win is a win, something positive the team can build on going into the last two games. Young players got valuable playing time. Confidence was gained.

But with nothing on the line, the Ravens' big game came way too late.

mike.preston@baltsun.com

Vikings@Ravens Sunday, 8:30 p.m., ESPN, 1300 AM, 102.7 FM Line: Ravens by 2 1/2

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