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Billick unsure QB swap would reignite offense that couldn't; In national spotlight, glaring deficiencies were all more exposed

THE BALTIMORE SUN

One day after suffering an embarrassing, 35-8 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs on national television, Ravens coach Brian Billick was still undecided about who would be his starting quarterback against the Buffalo Bills on Oct. 31.

But even Billick conceded that regardless of whether it's Stoney Case, Tony Banks or even Scott Mitchell, there might not be much of an impact because the offensive line has been hit hard by injuries and the Ravens (2-4) don't have a quality receiving corps.

In most cases, new offenses take two to three years to fully implement.

"I've learned a lot from [Washington Redskins coach] Norv Turner, and during his last two years in Dallas, he just made it simple. He said, 'I got some talent here and let people stop that,' " Billick said. "In Minnesota last year, I had some talent on the outside, and I just said, 'Let them stop that.' We don't have that strength here right now.

"I've got to think for a while about our quarterback situation," Billick said. "You just can't flip through quarterbacks. It's not good for the team, not good for the organization. You need that sense of continuity.

"The decision will be based on the transition among the offensive line, the opponents we're playing against and how our defense will perform against them, what's in the best interest of our team and organization and how our quarterbacks will handle the situation."

Billick's offensive unit was booed throughout the game by a sellout crowd of 68,771 on Thursday night. Case was horrendous, completing 15 of 37 passes for 103 yards and no touchdowns. He had trouble completing even short passes in the flats and missed on two possible touchdown passes to receiver Brandon Stokley. He had three interceptions, two returned for touchdowns. The last one, intercepted by linebacker Donnie Edwards and lateraled to safety Reggie Tongue for a 38-yard touchdown, put Case on the bench for Banks with 10 minutes, 35 seconds left in the game.

By then, the Chiefs (4-2) had a 28-0 lead. Banks completed eight of 14 passes for 69 yards and led the Ravens on a 56-yard drive that was finished by a 2-yard touchdown from running back Errict Rhett with 4: 05 left in the game.

Banks seems to be the Ravens' best shot at winning currently. He is much more mobile than Mitchell, who was benched six quarters into the 1999 season, and just as agile as Case. When it comes to arm strength, Banks has no equal on the roster.

But according to several players, Billick would like for Banks to approach the game in a more professional manner as far as preparation. Banks also did not have a great training camp, often losing fumbled snaps and tripping while dropping back.

There is also speculation that Banks was still calling some of the audibles of his former St. Louis team in one Ravens preseason game, but the same stories were circulating about Case in Indianapolis during the summer after he left Arizona.

"I haven't heard anything about starting," said Banks, who was demoted from No. 2 to No. 3 without taking a snap during the regular season. "I'm playing it by ear. I've been humbled enough. I'm taking nothing for granted.

"I've been preparing myself mentally for each game, even thought I haven't gotten a lot of snaps in practice. This is the hardest thing I've ever been through before, the toughest thing I've ever had to deal with.

"But I have the support of my teammates, and they've helped me get through this," Banks said. "It was great to get out on the field and take my first hit. It was great to get my feet wet. The way we were calling plays, I was not in there to save the game, but it was just nice getting in there."

Case took much of the blame after the game Thursday night, but he rebounded with confidence yesterday. He's completed 62 of 141 passes for 797 yards and three touchdowns in four starts with the Ravens, but has thrown six interceptions. He hasn't played well in the past eight quarters against Tennessee and Kansas City, and struggled in wins over Cleveland and Atlanta.

"I'm just frustrated with the loss," Case said. "Frustrated, because I had a big part of it. As ugly as it was, you take away two passes that went the other way, and we're right back into it. As ugly as the score ended up, it could have been different. I made some good plays. They were overshadowed by so many bad ones."

Regardless of who starts, he'll probably have to improvise to make big plays. Despite Justin Armour's six catches for 70 yards against the Chiefs, Armour and fellow starting receiver Qadry Ismail would struggle to make a quality team's roster. Receiver Jermaine Lewis would probably be the No. 2 receiver on a good team, at best, and he had just two receptions for 4 yards against Kansas City.

And then there is the offensive line. Compared with his Pro Bowl standards of the past two years, left offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden struggled Thursday night and still seems to be bothered by a sprained neck that forced him to miss most of the past two games. The Ravens were also without starting right tackle Harry Swayne (lower leg) and top backup Spencer Folau (knee).

Their replacement, James Atkins, left the game with a groin injury in the first quarter, forcing the Ravens to move left guard Everett Lindsay to right tackle and the rotation of Mike Flynn and rookie Edwin Mulitalo at left guard. Kansas City put pressure on the quarterbacks most of the night.

"Jonathan Ogden was just getting in that comfort zone with Everett Lindsay, and Jeff Blackshear was just starting to get in the groove with Harry Swayne," Billick said. "We had that continuity going into Week 4, and then we had some injuries that put our offensive line in flux. Then we had our tight end go down with an injury. These are things we've had to deal with."

The Ravens wasted another great defensive effort against the Chiefs, who were held to 218 yards of total offense compared to 277 for the Ravens. Billick said he was glad the game wasn't played on Sunday. He has work to do.

Billick has to decide if he wants to scale down his offense, and also if he wants to shuffle less personnel in the game. He certainly won't change his scheme and philosophy. He still wants a balanced offense and won't rely on a running game and defense to get him another 14-10 loss.

He acknowledges the Baltimore fans are starting to get impatient.

"If you ask me if I'd rather take a chance at winning and lose 35-8 or look better and definitely lose 14-10, I'm going to choose the former. I'm going to take a shot," Billick said.

"If I was a fan and plunked down $80 for the night, I'd boo, too. I understand their frustration. I didn't sleep last night. When you play that way and perform that poorly, I feel badly for the players, I feel badly for the city of Baltimore and the Modells to play that badly on a national stage."

But reality may be setting in for Billick. This is a team without any major offensive weapons, no player who can dominate a game or make plays consistently.

"I'm responsible. I'm supposed to find the right formula. When you're 2-4, doesn't mean the season is over," Billick said. "Sometimes, there are no answers. That's a fact of life. There is no right way to do it, just lesser degrees of being wrong. I don't know if we're at that point yet."

Next for Ravens

Opponent: Buffalo Bills Site: PSINet Stadium When: Oct. 31, 1 p.m. TV/Radio: Ch. 13/WJFK (1300 AM), WLIF (101.9 FM)

Series: First meeting

Tickets: Sold out

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