Grated expectations transform this season into team's worst

ON THE RAVENS

Ravens Gameday

December 17, 2007|By MIKE PRESTON

MIAMI — MIAMI-- --It's official: This is the worst season in Ravens history.

They have two games remaining to improve on their 4-10 record, but this isn't about wins and losses.

It's about expectations. The Ravens were 4-12 in 1996, followed by 6-9-1 in 1997 and 6-10 in 1998. But that's when the Ravens had cash problems, and they brought in players like Donny Brady, Keith Goganious, Craig Powell, Carwell Gardner and Eugene Daniel. No one really expected those teams to go far into the postseason.

The Ravens have stability now and an owner so wealthy that he hands out four-year contracts like they were candy at Halloween.

The Ravens entered the season with 12 Pro Bowl players on their roster and the expectations of being one of the league's elite teams after going 13-3 in 2006.

But yesterday, they earned the right to be called the worst team in the NFL by losing to the previously winless Miami Dolphins (1-13). Combined with their injuries, no wins in the AFC North and three embarrassing losses on national TV, there has been no other season as frustrating and disappointing as this one.

The Ravens lost to a quarterback named Cleo Lemon yesterday. Wow!

Smith shows something

Rookie quarterback Troy Smith did give the Ravens some hope. He connected on five of 11 passes for 49 yards and put the team in position to score on two of three possessions at the end of the game.

He didn't remind anyone of Johnny Unitas because he completed only short passes against a prevent defense, but he carried himself well and moved comfortably in the pocket.

The Ravens should allow him to play more in the last two games against the Seahawks and Steelers.

"When he came in, it was like a breath of fresh air," Ravens guard Jason Brown said.

That's an interesting statement.

Worst embarrassment

Brian Billick got the owner's backing to return as coach last week, perhaps in part to make sure his players didn't tank against the Dolphins.

Several Ravens officials had said that losing to Miami would be a major embarrassment.

What's worse is when you give your coach a vote of confidence, then you lose to the worst club in the NFL.

The big decision

On fourth down at the Miami 1-yard line with 12 seconds left in the fourth quarter, Billick sent out Matt Stover to kick the 18-yard field goal that forced overtime.

I would have gone for the touchdown because the Ravens had nothing to lose.

However, I do understand Billick's decision. The Ravens had lost seven games in a row so he was desperate, plus he wanted to end the losing streak this season. He felt overtime gave him the best chance to win.

Homecoming game

The Ravens have become everyone's homecoming opponent.

Yesterday, the Dolphins brought back players from their undefeated 1972 team. Earlier this season in Pittsburgh, the Steelers honored some of their past great players at halftime.

For next week, there is speculation that the Seahawks are bringing back Jim Zorn and Steve Largent at halftime when the Ravens visit.

Rooftop blues

That Ravens fan might have to stay up on the roof of a Canton bar for two more weeks. He said he isn't coming down until the Ravens win or the season ends.

Say hello to Santa for me.

Taylor on offense?

With 3:31 left in the first half, Miami ran a fade route to defensive end Jason Taylor in the left corner of the end zone from the 5-yard line.

Yes, you read it correctly. Instead of an isolation play to the team's best receiver, the Dolphins threw it to a defensive end. Now you know why they hadn't won a game until yesterday.

Eye on Taylor

Taylor might collect some incentive money after yesterday's game. He had two sacks in the first half.

The Dolphins moved Taylor along the line of scrimmage, and that caused mismatch problems. But on one sack, Taylor came in from the right side untouched. The Ravens should have known where Taylor was lining up at all times.

Stop the celebration

I understand it was a homecoming for Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis, but he didn't have to snap off his chin- strap and pound his chest after he made a tackle.

It's one thing to do it when you make a tackle for a loss, but another to do it after an 8-yard gain.

Here's something new for the Ravens: Make a tackle, go back to the huddle without dancing and then do it again.

Giving them room

The Ravens were without starting cornerbacks Samari Rolle and Chris McAlister, so their strategy was simple.

The Ravens kept cornerbacks Corey Ivy and Willie Gaston about 10 yards off the line of scrimmage. Lemon was so inaccurate that the Dolphins couldn't take advantage of it in the first half, but they sure did in the second.

mike.preston@baltsun.com

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