Like Boller's pass protection, his receivers were sloppy. Derrick Mason, Mark Clayton and Chester Taylor all dropped passes. But Boller was wild, often throwing high and behind them.

Asked if he believed that he would be the starting quarterback next season, Boller said, "I hope so. All I can do is my best. You are going to have to ask the coaches about that kind of stuff. I'm just going to keep working. There is so much room for improvement. I feel like I can be that much better of a player and I think I will be."

The one throw that Boller would want to have back came in the Ravens' final drive.

With 1:20 left in the game, Mason had two steps on the nearest defender and ran free down the right sideline. But the potential touchdown throw sailed out of bounds at the Cleveland 20, and Mason never had a chance to make a play on the ball.

"It was a good read but that's a hard throw to make," Mason said of the 40-yard pass.

The offense shouldered a brunt of the blame but not all of it.

The Ravens' special teams allowed a punt return for a touchdown and a 54-yard kickoff return that set up the Browns' only offensive touchdown. There was also a bad snap from Matt Katula that sabotaged a 23-yard field-goal try in the second quarter.

As far as the Ravens' defense, it didn't give up a first down in the first seven possessions before contributing to the collapse. The pass rush that had dogged rookie quarterback Charlie Frye vanished, allowing the Browns to gain all of their 232 yards of offense in the final two-plus quarters.

"We should have won this game," linebacker Tommy Polley said. "I don't even know what to say about it. I'm stunned we lost myself.

"We know we can beat Cleveland. But we lost a lot of games we weren't supposed to: Cleveland, Detroit and probably Chicago. This was a game here that dictated how our season went, especially on the road."

The Ravens now enter an offseason of uncertainty.

They have to decide whether Boller is their starting quarterback or if a veteran is needed. They have to determine if Jamal Lewis or Taylor - both of whom are unrestricted free agents - will be their featured running back.

And, most importantly, they have to figure out if the foundation is there to rebound from an underachieving season to a playoff one.

"This team will win next year. I don't doubt that at all," Thomas said. "The question is: Do you want to be here for it?"
Ravens year by year

Year Coach Record Div. Playoffs
1996 Ted Marchibroda, 4-12, 5th -
1997 Marchibroda, 6-9-1, 5th -
1998 Marchibroda, 6-10, 4th -
1999 Brian Billick, 8-8, 3rd -