A packed house at PSINet Stadium. A national television audience on ESPN. And as embarrassing a performance as the Ravens have given in their brief and torturous history.
When will it end?
Not until the Ravens get a quarterback. Not until they start lining up with the right number of players on the field. Not until they stop trading draft picks for players they won't use.
The Tony Banks Era finally began with 10: 22 left in the fourth quarter and the Ravens trailing the Kansas City Chiefs, 28-0. We'd issue a formal thank you to Coach Brian Billick, but his gift, if you want to call it that, came too late.
Leap of Faith II turned out about as well as Leap of Faith I, and Billick's honeymoon is growing shorter. Ted Marchibroda must have been laughing out loud last night -- assuming he didn't turn off his TV, like every other self-respecting football fan in America.
Stoney Case is not the answer. Stoney Case was never going to be the answer. And if Billick had pulled him for Banks with the Ravens 7-0 at halftime, maybe the outcome would have been different. Or at least more interesting.
"Everybody knows this is going to be a one-play type game at the end," Billick proclaimed at halftime. If that was the case -- and it wasn't, thanks to Stoney -- then Banks would have given the Ravens a better chance to win.
We'll agree with Billick on one thing -- you can't just blame the quarterback. The Ravens' offensive line was too beat up to handle such an aggressive opponent. And the Ravens' receivers, well, their inability to separate from defensive backs frequently leads to their best play -- pass interference.
Remember when Billick said he would go 2-14 trying to make something happen before he would bleed at 6-10? Well, he isn't making something happen. And guess what? There's no easy way for him to stop the bleeding.
It's true that the Ravens lack talent at the offensive skill positions. It's also true that they traded five draft picks for Banks (disliked by Billick), Scott Mitchell (benched) and Lovell Purnell (released). Can Billick's computer do subtraction by subtraction?
Case threw three interceptions last night, two of which were returned for touchdowns. The Chiefs dropped at least three more potential interceptions, and Case missed Brandon Stokley twice on potential touchdowns. His quarterback rating was approximately sub-zero.
We'll grant Stoney every possible excuse. His line failed to protect him. His receivers couldn't get open. He was making only his fifth career start.
But hey, he completed only 15 of 37 passes for 103 yards. The only way Billick could justify starting Case against Buffalo a week from Sunday is if he believes Stoney is the quarterback of the future. And why on earth would he believe that?
After going two games without an interception, Case threw a brutal pick on the Ravens' first series, trying to hit Justin Armour with James Hasty all over him. Heck, Hasty could have had three interceptions in the first quarter, if only he would have caught the ball.
Case failed to complete his first eight passes before finally hitting Charles Evans for zero yards. His second completion was a 9-yard pass that Qadry Ismail had to scoop off the grass. His third was to Greg DeLong for zero yards.
He finished the half with eight completions in 23 attempts for 41 yards. Only two of his completions were to wide receivers. And so on, and so on.
The shame of it is, the defense might finally be nearing an elite level -- it had allowed 14 points or fewer in the previous three games. But no matter who is at quarterback, the Ravens don't know how to win, and act like they never will.
They had a first-quarter field goal nullified when they were penalized for 12 men on the field -- and naturally, Matt Stover hit the right upright on his second try. They also had a first-down pass on 3rd-and-11 nullified by a holding call on Errict Rhett.
To think, a victory last night would have given the Ravens a .500 record after six games for only the second time in their history. Looking at the schedule -- Buffalo at home, then Cleveland, Jacksonville and Cincinnati on the road -- a .500 record after 10 games would not have seemed out of the question. And then, with four of the next five games at home wild-card fever!
But as usual, just when the Ravens appeared on the verge of taking a step forward, they took two steps back. In their first three home games under Billick, they've produced their usual maddening loss to Pittsburgh, an uninspiring victory over Cleveland and last night's disaster.
For the season, their only two victories were against teams that are a combined 1-11. Another quarterback change would inspire another round of false hope, but eventually the fans will stop being fooled. The whole country saw it last night: This team has major problems.