Billick only one who didn't bring his `A' game for playoffs

Ravens Extra

January 14, 2007|By RICK MAESE

The Indianapolis Colts' leading rusher finished with 56 yards, and their top receiver finished with 51. Steve McNair had more passing yards and a higher quarterback rating than Peyton Manning. Manning threw two interceptions and no touchdown passes. And the Ravens' defense didn't allow a touchdown.

If you knew only that, you'd think we were talking about another weekend of playoff football, and you'd be bothering your boss this morning for some time off during Super Bowl week.

Instead, the hangover today is all about what went wrong in yesterday's devastating 15-6 loss to the Colts. You can pin the blame on a player or a unit or even give some credit to the Colts, if you want. But the guys in purple all seemed to play with the proper playoff intensity yesterday. In fact, the only one who didn't seem to perform as though a championship was on the line was coach Brian Billick.

The Ravens probably wouldn't have carried their 13-3 record into the playoffs if it weren't for Billick. His coaching, his leadership and most notably, the tough decision to part ways with his friend, former offensive coordinator Jim Fassel, and assume play-calling responsibilities were vital to the Ravens' successful season.

But when the trophy is within reach, you have to stretch your arms a little further, and Billick's bland play-calling and play-it-safe decision-making yesterday did not fit the occasion. He can't execute the plays and Billick certainly didn't design those costly turnovers, but to get your nose near the end zone, you sometimes have to stick your neck out. And put frankly, I've seen school crossing guards willing to take more risks than Billick did against the Colts.

Let's start with where most Ravens drives stopped - third down. On five occasions, the Ravens completed third-down passes - each a designed route that fell short of the first-down marker. Over and over we saw it. Third-and-seven - a 5-yard completion. Third-and-five - a pass for 3. Third-and-six - a 2-yarder. And so on.

"They actually are designed to get the first down," said Billick, showing more color in his sarcasm than his play-calling. "As odd as it may sound, defenses, they know [the down and distance] as well. If it's third-and-seven, they're going to do everything to keep you from getting the ball to seven. Sometimes you have to throw the ball underneath and you just have to make a play."

Sure, sometimes. But every time?

What some of those instances call for is a proven playmaker. The go-to guy in such situations used to seem like Derrick Mason. But he didn't have a pass thrown his way until the third quarter and finished the game with 16 yards on two receptions.

Speaking about the season, Mason said: "I just did not feel like they considered me a playmaker. Basically, that's what it boils down to. And today it was the same way.

"That's the way I feel, whether it be wrong or right. Whether you say, `Oh, he's selfish,' or not ... I just didn't feel appreciated the whole season."

Yesterday, clearly the game plan wasn't built around Mason, but what exactly was it built around? The four teams that have beaten the Colts this season averaged nearly 40 carries a game against Indianapolis. Granted, the Colts' defense has played its two best games of the year in back-to-back weeks, but the Ravens attempted only 20 carries yesterday. And two of those came at the end of the first half, when Billick probably should have been calling a few pass plays instead.

With just under a minute remaining in the half, the Ravens trailed 9-3 and could have either run out the clock or made a push for the end zone. A team that feeds off momentum as much as the Ravens could've used the boost, if not some points.

Instead, Billick called two running plays. The clock kept rolling, and as Billick's team jogged off the field, the boisterous crowd, itching for something to cheer about all day, booed its beloved Ravens.

"Yeah, there was a possibility that we could have moved down the field and gone 80 yards and scored a touchdown," Billick said, "or have to punt and give them one more opportunity with a field-goal kicker who's having a good day."

You can't argue that and we'll never know what would've happened. But there's a point where you have to coach to win. Too often we see coaches in big situations coaching to not lose. Facing a team like the Colts in the playoffs is not the time to play it safe.

Safe might keep the score close, and it will probably look respectable in the history books, but it's not what champions are necessarily made of.

It was quite a ride, and it's a shame for the Ravens that Billick has to cap off his finest season as a head coach with such an uninspired game.

Ravens' postseason history

The Ravens are 5-3 in the postseason after yesterday's 15-6 loss to the Colts.

Opponent Date Round Result

Denver 12/31/00 Wild card W, 21-3

@Tennessee 1/7/01 Divisional W, 24-10

@Oakland 1/14/01 AFC championship W, 16-3

N.Y. Giants 1/28/01 Super Bowl W, 34-7

@Miami 1/13/02 Wild card W, 20-3

@Pittsburgh 1/20/02 Divisional L, 27-10

Tennessee 1/3/04 Wild card L, 20-17

Indianapolis 1/13/07 Divisional L, 15-6

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