Ravens drop back into quarterback hole


ST. LOUIS -- So much for the new era. This might as well have been Week 17 of last season, only with Brian Billick replacing Ted Marchibroda and Scott Mitchell replacing Jim Harbaugh.

Hate to say it, but the new era might not dawn until the Ravens draft a franchise quarterback. And, no, it's not too early to start gushing over players such as Louisville's Chris Redman.

Mitchell wants patience. Billick wants patience. Football teams always want patience after they disintegrate in their season opener, the way the Ravens did yesterday in their 27-10 loss to the St. Louis Rams.

"The biggest thing is not to panic," Mitchell said. "We've got 15 games left. This isn't a sprint. It's a marathon. The troops have to rally together.

"The only thing that will really hurt is if guys start saying 'This guy can do a better job; that guy can do a better job.' Everyone just has to focus on their assignment, their responsibility. We'll be just fine."

You wish you could believe him. You wish he hadn't confirmed your worst fears. You wish you could justify the leap of faith that Billick requested and not feel as if you were standing on the edge of the Bay Bridge.

Let's just say that Mitchell had better show improvement in Sunday's home opener against Pittsburgh or the new coach will face an insurrection at PSINet Stadium, with fans howling for the start of the Stone Age.

Save it, people.

Stoney Case is not the answer, and he's not going to be, at least not right away. The preseason is over and reality is upon us, and Mitchell is the quarterback for the foreseeable future, no matter how poorly he plays.

See, this isn't simply a matter of performance, not with Billick's credibility at stake. The Ravens already wasted two draft picks trading for Tony Banks. Billick won't easily admit that they wasted two more trading for Mitchell.

Never mind that the Ravens might have won yesterday if Mitchell had turned in a reasonable imitation of that famed Arena Football and NFL Europe veteran, Kurt "Pop" Warner.

Instead, Mitchell completed 17 of 40 passes for 188 yards with one touchdown, two interceptions and a fumble that the Ravens recovered. He would have had another fumble after he tried to switch hands while getting tackled -- don't try this at home -- but a referee's whistle saved him.

His arm resembled Harbaugh's. His decision-making resembled Vinny Testaverde's. His lack of mobility resembled Tony Siragusa's, and it might have been one reason Rams defensive tackle D'Marco Farr compared him to a "big water buffalo."

By the second half, the offense was Marchibroda horizontal rather than Billick vertical. Mitchell failed to connect with his biggest weapon, Jermaine Lewis. The Rams also shut out Lewis, repeatedly punting away from him.

But how did Billick assess Mitchell?

"Hard to say," the coach said. "You [reporters] are going to blame Scott for a lot of things that may or may not have been Scott Mitchell's fault. But there's a lot going on around him. His protection. His routes. The skill level we have on the outside.

"I know it's a cliche, but I couldn't begin to comment on his play until I looked at the film. There are some areas, obviously, where fundamentally or structurally he needs to do a little bit better. But he's not the only one."

Fair enough. The Ravens committed 11 penalties and allowed five sacks. New right tackle Harry Swayne twice was called for false starts. New fullback Charles Evans missed a block that led to a sack. You're Ravens now, fellas!

Indeed, it took a village to lose to a team with the most losses in the NFL this decade, a team that had dropped 11 of its previous 13 games at Trans World Dome. But, no, you don't have to look at the film to judge Mitchell. He was dismal.

It would be one thing if his mistakes were the result of his difficulty in learning a new offense. But Mitchell's inability to protect the ball -- a problem that surfaced in training camp -- is the last thing you would expect from a 10-year veteran.

The interception he threw on the first play of the second quarter was a horrific thing, evoking memories of Testaverde at his worst. Flushed from the pocket on third-and-six, Mitchell attempted a pass for Evans instead of trying to rush for a first down.

Todd Lyght intercepted and lateraled to Taje Allen, and the damage didn't end there. Pro Bowl left tackle Jonathan Ogden suffered a hip pointer tackling Allen along the sideline, and did not return.

"It just wasn't a smart play in that situation," Mitchell said. "I was trying to make a play. It hurt us. I just can't do that."

Billick agreed.

"Scott's not that type of quarterback. We don't have that kind of talent," he said. "We've just got to execute what we do. That kind of stuff is too haphazard."

So, the Ravens' only first-half points came on a field goal after Chris McAlister's interception return put them at the St. Louis 6, and the red-zone offense went 1 yard backward.

Mitchell completed 14 of 27 passes in the second half, including a 28-yard touchdown to Brandon Stokley. But he failed to record a first down on the game's pivotal series, with the Ravens needing a touchdown to tie after recovering a fumble on the St. Louis 30 early in the fourth quarter.

Matt Stover missed a 54-yard field-goal try, and it was over.

"You've got to remember, this is a new situation for all of us -- it might take some time," Mitchell said. "That's not an excuse. We didn't get the job done. But we're going to get better. We're just going to have to stay together."

Billick didn't leave much choice, did he?

Until further notice:

Same old Ravens.

Pub Date: 9/13/99

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