Raiders spanked; Ravens do crying

The Baltimore Sun

Well, at least the Ravens' Super Bowl bandwagon is a little roomier today.


Rarely, if ever, has a 28-6 spanking in the home opener by an unbeaten team seemed so deflating. Rarely has the spanking team sounded so worried, so publicly and acutely aware of its shortcomings.

And rarely has a team that seemed to have buried so much of its past a week ago appeared to be glancing over its shoulder in dread of its return.

"I'll take care of all those assessments tomorrow," Brian Billick kept repeating afterward, every time any topic related to the offense was raised. If you don't have anything good to say ...

It wasn't exactly as if the day were overshadowed by what unfolded every time the Ravens had the ball. It was the defense's time to shine, again; another hefty folk hero, Kelly Gregg, was born, Adalius Thomas added a few more highlights to his bid for the Pro Bowl and Ray was Ray again.

The fans at M&T; Bank Stadium weren't nitpicking; they got their raw meat and went home satisfied.

But in terms of the understandably heightened expectations, how uninspiring was that? How unnerving? How ... painfully familiar?

Even the Oakland Raiders, the afternoon's patsies, the worst organization in pro sports at the moment, were mad at themselves for wasting what they felt was a respectable effort by their defense.

"We feel like if we hold them to three points, that we won," Raiders linebacker Kirk Morrison said.

Then you know what? The Raiders won.

It felt a little bit like that in the Ravens' locker room anyway. They did not walk or talk like a team ready to dominate, ready to drive home the message they had sent from Tampa a week earlier.

It was easy to have dreams of Miami in February after the thorough, balanced performance against the Buccaneers. It was even easier when considering what the Ravens' special teams and defense (and the butterfingers of Raiders soon-to-be-former quarterback Aaron Brooks) provided for the offense in the first eight minutes yesterday.

A 72-yard return of the opening kickoff. A recovery of Brooks' fumbled snap. Another recovery of another fumbled snap. Field position inside the Raiders' 40 three straight times. Too good to be true, too hilarious to believe.

The results? Field goal, field goal, field goal. It was 9-0. Welcome back, Matt Stover, offensive MVP. Hope you enjoyed your one week off.

Except for a few bright moments, it really never got any better. Even after Gregg's lumbering fumble return to the Raiders' 15 in the third quarter ... more Stover.

It was a three-touchdown win that might fool someone who only saw the final score. It is a 2-0 start that almost needs an asterisk, considering the competition. It was a home win by a decisive margin that probably lowered the perception of them a notch or two.

Thus, the post-game scene of offensive linemen slumped on their stools, running backs looking more relieved than triumphant, Steve McNair grimly outlining what needs fixing and the head coach taking the Fifth.

And there was this: when Derrick Mason was asked what grade he would give the offense, he said, "An F."

Mason at least was only around for the tail end of the Ravens' eternal quest for some serious, credible offensive punch. But if he's mad that the quest hasn't ended quite as fast as he thought with his former partner in Tennessee on board, he's not alone.

"As an offense, we have to get that mentality that defense is going to save us out of our heads," he said.

The defensive players, to their credit, stayed on message, never even hinting that they were back in the bailing-out business. Also, to his credit, McNair didn't sugarcoat anything about his performance, which was often Boller-esque.

In pre-game introductions, he got a reception not unlike that for the astronauts coming back from the moon, illuminating the expectations he has been carrying since the day he arrived. Unfortunately, his up-and-down play illuminated them even further.

"It fired me up," he said, adding with his only attempt at humor, "maybe it fired me up too much."

He was plenty fired up on the sidelines as each opportunity was wasted, observed Stover. "What I liked to see is that McNair was not happy - not angry necessarily, but he was walking around like" - and he did his best impression of the quarterback between series, grimacing, punching a fist into his palm, cursing himself, demanding better of himself.

There is no reason to lose faith this fast in McNair or the hopes for this season. There is plenty of reason, though, to take the Super Bowl fever down a few degrees.

Exactly how much to cool down? Billick will take care of all those assessments today.

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