MIAMI - THE RAVENS MAY BE legitimate playoff contenders, but they better hope any postseason games are not on national television. Ask for blackout. Pull the plug on the lights at the stadium.
The Ravens are now 1-4 on national television during the five seasons the team has been in Baltimore, and last night they lost to a quarterback named Jay Fiedler.
Who is he?
Just another in a bunch of no-name quarterbacks who have ambushed and beaten the Ravens in recent years like Rob Johnson, Craig Whelihan and Steve Stenstrom. The Ravens still have a problem of handling prosperity after big emotional wins like last week, when they defeated the Jacksonville Jaguars, 39-36.
This could have been only the third time in team history that the Ravens have won three games in a row. They could have sent another statement throughout the league and built more confidence.
Instead, they lost to the Dolphins (2-1), who were playing only their third game under new coach Dave Wannstedt.
Thank goodness the Ravens play the Cincinnati Bengals at home Sunday, and then travel to Cleveland the following week. People around the league at least know that Akili Smith is the Bengals' quarterback and Tim Couch runs the Cleveland offense.
But Jay Fiedler?
That's what made last night's loss depressing. Fiedler had only 10 practices before the game, and Ravens coach Brian Billick had warned his team about a possible letdown. Billick and the Ravens also wanted to redeem themselves after a humiliating 35-8 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs last year on national TV.
But the Ravens turned in another ho-hum performance. They had only 262 yards of total offense and converted on two of 10 third-down situations. By the first two minutes of the fourth quarter, a lot of the fans had left, this after celebrating the unveiling of a statue honoring former Dolphins great quarterback Dan Marino and Miami had taken a 19-3 lead.
Some of the same things that haunted the Ravens in previous losses on center stage were evident again. The last Ravens quarterback to wear No. 12, Vinny Testaverde, once threw four interceptions in a Ravens 37-0 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1997.
The current No. 12, Tony Banks, was way off last night. He couldn't handle the ball or keep his footwork on the muddy field. He often threw behind receivers and threw an interception to kill one drive inside the Miami 5 with 4:28 left in the second quarter.
But Banks, who was 19 of 31 for 189 yards, was far from the Ravens' only problem. The Ravens defense, ranked No. 2 at the end of last season, turned in another weak performance, and one has to wonder what is going on. Four of the team's top draft picks in the past five years are on that side of the ball, and the Ravens get beat by a quarterback who had only several pass patterns more than 15 yards.
The Ravens' defensive line was handled physically by the Dolphins, who lost perhaps their best offensive lineman, tackle Richmond Webb, in the first quarter due to injury.
And then there was the bizarre, like Ravens place-kicker Matt Stover having a 30-yard field-goal attempt blocked at the end of the first half, ending a string of 22 straight makes.
"They beat us in every aspect of the game," Billick said. "This was not about coming off a big game or getting full of ourselves. We got beat physically by a very good football team. They came out in all aspects of the game and physically beat us to the punch. There is no other explanation for it.
"We can correct whatever errors we can, but there are not going to be a whole lot of errors to correct."
Oh well, the Ravens have only one more national TV game this year. That's against Jacksonville on Oct. 8. They shouldn't have any problems getting up for that one.
Quarterback Mark Brunell is known throughout the league as well as receivers Jimmy Smith and Keenan McCardell. By then, running back Fred Taylor should be back in the lineup. He's a great one, not an average one like Miami's Lamar Smith, who had 63 yards on 22 carries against the Ravens.
Smith couldn't even make the New Orleans Saints two years ago.
Maybe, just maybe, Billick will have his team ready for Prime Time by then. It's another step this team has to make, a step they didn't make last night. A step they really haven't made in five years.