Ravens show they aren't even in AFC's second tier

Ravens Gameday

November 06, 2007|By DAVID STEELE

PITTSBURGH -- -- It was as bad as we thought.

Not the final score, 38-7, last night at Heinz Field. Not the extent to which the Ravens were humiliated by the Pittsburgh Steelers on national television, or the depth to which they sank with their ineptitude on both sides of the ball.

What became brutally evident was what America's football fans suspected the day before. The New England Patriots and Indianapolis Colts are the real deal in the NFL, with the rest of the league barely visible in their rearview mirrors.

The Ravens aren't even on the horizon.

Don't ever let them tell you they are. Not that they're contenders, not that they're close, not that they have a puncher's chance at making a run in the postseason. Not that things will be different when everybody is healthy, not that they'll thrive off all the disrespect for them.

If this becomes a postseason team, it would only be because the rest of the division and AFC manage to sink further than they have. Which isn't impossible. Every team outside of Foxborough and Indianapolis is below sea level. The reality is that the Ravens aren't even as close to the surface as their rivals in the division.

If that seems obvious and, thus, irrelevant to the situation at hand, remember that the belief was strong, and not just in the Ravens' locker room, that this team was going to spend this season right where it spent last season, neck and neck with the three other serious AFC contenders. Two teams have stayed there, and we know which ones. A third, the San Diego Chargers, went backward.

The fourth went way backward, the way Willis McGahee went backward on that Three Stooges routine early in the second quarter last night. Or the way Ed Reed had gone backward a quarter earlier, before being separated from the ball and nearly his cleats. (That was turnover No. 2 of the Ravens' five.)

Midway through the season, the Ravens have not once given a performance that signals they belong. The Steelers have: last night. But people might not take it seriously, because ... it came against the Ravens.

As much as it's tempting not to give the Ravens any wiggle room on excuses - after all, they promised much better than this after the bye week and the lessons from the loss in Buffalo - Ben Roethlisberger did take advantage of the absence of both starting cornerbacks, as much as all of the turnovers and the inability of the Ravens' pass rush to hold onto him.

It really was a disharmonic convergence of bad breaks and bad play.

"It was just one of those games where the ball got rolling bad," said offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden, whose bad toe survived but who found no consolation in it. "Once the ball got rolling, it just snowballed."

Now that it's rolling like this, who knows where it will stop? Even with a 2-6 team, the Cincinnati Bengals, at home, coming up next.

It's still hard to tell whether the Steelers are as good as they looked last night. Probably not. They still have weaknesses better teams can exploit - or lesser teams, like 3-5 Arizona and 3-5 Denver. They just never had to worry about it last night.

The Ravens got beaten up, they got shown up, and a couple of times they made fools of themselves. Once the Ravens finally got to Roethlisberger, in the final minute and a half of the first half - after they had stormed back to within 35-7 - Terrell Suggs turned and did a little dance. He wasn't the only one still yapping, still gesturing, still ignoring the scoreboard. Lose a game, lose your dignity, but don't lose that swagger.

Nevertheless, in any other season, one could still make a case that it was too early for anything to be decided.

This is the wrong season for that, and that became obvious Sunday afternoon in the RCA Dome. In a way, that display of excellence hurt the NFL as much as it showcased it.

Watching the Patriots and Colts on Sunday made your heart sing. Watching the Steelers and Ravens the next night made your eyes bleed.

But one of the teams last night likely will make the playoffs, maybe both. How good can that be for the NFL, for a team that got its pants pulled down the way the Ravens did last night to still be playing in January?

The Steelers are good, but they're out of the Patriots' and Colts' league. The Ravens are out of the Steelers' league. And the league the Ravens are in now, you don't want to buy the satellite package for that.

david.steele@baltsun.com

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