Not Ready For Prime Time

Recent history shows Ravens stumble in spotlight of night games

December 02, 2008|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,jamison.hensley@baltsun.com

There was linebacker Bart Scott throwing the official's flag into the stands.

There was Steve McNair setting an NFL record for futility.

And there was the worst loss in the nine-year Brian Billick era.

When it comes to playing before a national television audience, the Ravens' history is an unbecoming one.

Their prime-time losing streak has grown to seven games, a skid that dates to 2006.

The Ravens will get another shot to prove they are prime-time players Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium, when they host the Washington Redskins at 8:15 p.m.

"That's the past," cornerback Samari Rolle said of the prime-time problems. "We're a totally different team than we've been in the past. I think we've all learned how to be disciplined and how to play for one another."

Under first-year head coach John Harbaugh, the Ravens have methodically distanced themselves from a checkered past.

Winning on the road is no longer a novelty. Their offense is no longer scoring-challenged.

But the players are not really excited to show the nation that these are not the old Ravens.

"I think we need to focus on other things," tight end Todd Heap said. "If we play like we've been playing, I think people will find out for themselves. That's why they put us on Sunday night."

The Ravens' game against the Washington Redskins was originally scheduled for the afternoon, but the NFL switched it to prime time because it's a chance to showcase two teams in the playoff hunt.

With four weeks remaining in the regular season, the Ravens (8-4) are one game behind the first-place Pittsburgh Steelers (9-3) in the AFC North and one game ahead of the New England Patriots (7-5) and Miami Dolphins (7-5) for the sixth and final playoff spot in the AFC.

"Our guys have earned the right to play meaningful football games in December. That's all we care about," Harbaugh said. "We don't care about playing on prime time. We don't care if the rest of the country knows about us or not. We're not interested in any of that. We're not trying to impress anybody."

A win over the Redskins would give the Ravens local bragging rights as well as boost their standing nationally. The Ravens don't seem to get as much respect around the country because they fail to play well when the nation is watching.

The last time the Ravens won a night game was December 2005, when they beat the Minnesota Vikings, 30-23. In their 13-year existence, the Ravens are 11-18 (.379) on nationally televised games.

This could be the right time for the Ravens to take the national stage because they seem to be hitting their stride.

The Ravens have scored more than 30 points in four of their past five games, which is one more than the previous three seasons combined. The defense hasn't allowed a touchdown in 10 quarters while scoring two on its own.

"Do I care what people think outside the Maryland area? No, I really don't," wide receiver Derrick Mason said. "I don't care about anybody outside the state of Maryland. We have nothing to prove. The teams that we play understand.

"If you want to put us on prime time, so be it. We're ready to play at noon, 1 o'clock, 3 o'clock. We're not looking to be the spotlight team. We're looking to go out there, work hard and play physical football. Let our play speak for itself."

Three reasons for Ravens' prime-time problems

1. Bad quarterback play: . McNair seemed to save some of his worst performances for nationally televised games.

In a 2006 Monday night game in Denver, McNair was intercepted three times. He was picked off on an underthrown pass to Clarence Moore in the end zone and was intercepted twice late in the fourth quarter to end any hope of a comeback.

A year later in Pittsburgh, McNair had the fewest passing yards in NFL history (63) by a quarterback who completed 13 passes. The 38-7 rout was the worst loss in Billick's nine-year run as coach.

2. Untimely injuries. : The Ravens have limped in prime time because of injuries to key players.

In the 2007 season opener in Cincinnati, McNair injured his groin on the first series of the game. He then turned over the ball four times (three lost fumbles and one interception), which led to 21 of the Bengals' 24 points off turnovers.

Against the Indianapolis Colts later that season, Rolle reinjured his shoulder right before the game to join Chris McAlister on the sideline. Peyton Manning threw for four touchdowns against backup cornerbacks Corey Ivy and David Pittman.

3. Losing their cool. : The Ravens' biggest mistakes come when they fail to keep their composure, which has only magnified their bad-boy image.

Against the unbeaten New England Patriots last season, Scott was charged with an unsportsmanlike-conduct penalty on the game-winning touchdown with 44 seconds left and was flagged for a second personal foul after he threw the official's flag into the stands. Although Scott was venting frustration over the officials, the penalties backed up the Ravens on their final drive to dent any late rally.

This season at Pittsburgh, Jarret Johnson was flagged for unnecessary roughness when he shoved wide receiver Hines Ward after the play had ended. Three plays later, Ben Roethlisberger completed a pass to wide receiver Santonio Holmes, which started Pittsburgh's comeback.

NOT THEIR TIME TO SHINE

A look at the Ravens' seven-game losing streak in prime time:

Date Opponent Result

10-9-06 at DEN Loss, 13-3

11-30-06 at CIN Loss, 13-7

9-10-07 at CIN Loss, 27-20

11-5-07 at PIT Loss, 38-7

12-3-07 vs. N.E. Loss, 27-24

12-9-07 vs. IND Loss, 44-20

9-29-08 at PIT Loss, 23-20, OT

REDSKINS (7-5) @RAVENS (8-4)

Sunday, 8:15 p.m

TV: Chs. 11, 4

Radio: 97.9 FM, 1090 AM

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