Ready for some football? The Ravens sure weren'ts

The Baltimore Sun

CINCINNATI -- For all of the complaining we heard about the number of preseason games, it sure would've been nice if someone made certain the Ravens knew that the regular season has started now, that the games count, that it's time to stop talking about potential and start realizing it.

Instead, we saw an offense stumble, a team deliver more turnovers than a pastry shop and a quarterback come through with the kind of Week 1 performance that makes you worry about what the next four months might hold.

Steve McNair, the steady veteran who was brought in last season to provide stability and leadership, fumbled three times last night and threw one interception in the Ravens' 27-20 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals. You never know just what to take from an early-season game like this, but at the very least, it was a performance that simply cannot be repeated - which McNair himself was quick to acknowledge last night.

"You just can't turn the ball over six times and expect to win the football game. ... That's uncalled for; that's unacceptable for this offense," he said. "And it all starts with me."

That last point was as close to being accurate as McNair managed all night.

The cue that Ravens fans were waiting for never came. All offseason and all preseason, they'd waited for a dynamic offense to stake its claim. It was advertised incessantly, and you couldn't escape it - like a middle-of-the-night infomercial: New and Improved, It Slices, It Dices, It Scores Touchdowns With Ease. Fans would've been better served to change the channel rather than get their hopes up.

These opening-week games can foretell the future or they can prove to be anomalies, but no one's going out on a limb in suggesting that if the Ravens are going to find success this year, the offense won't be behind the steering wheel. Once again, they'll merely be along for the ride.

Sure, you could've suffered through the three-plus hours of visual torture last night, but the Ravens actually packaged everything you needed to know into a nice little two-minute bundle late in the game.

We had: an injured starting quarterback on the sideline in pain, an inept offense that reached the 3-yard line and failed in six tries to cross the goal line, a running back who couldn't move the ball and a second-string quarterback who couldn't complete a pass. Plus, there was a penalty that negated a game-tying touchdown and a turnover that ended the drive.

It was the perfect formula for frustration and confirmed once again that whenever optimism and hype surround the Ravens' offense, close your eyes, plug your ears and sprint as fast as you can in the opposite direction.

All the talk of a new running game that might open up the passing game feels like it was nothing more than a talking game. Willis McGahee is the new cog, but he might as well have had "LEWIS" spelled across his shoulders last night. His addition had little noticeable effect on a stagnant offense.

And what about McNair? Let's just say that if the Bengals game is a sign of things to come, we will be hearing chants for Kyle Boller before long (OK, maybe not Boller, but Troy Smith maybe ... or Byron Leftwich).

"Things happen. I don't know what you tell a guy like Steve McNair," coach Brian Billick said. "I am open to suggestions."

And what of Billick? The coach is again calling the offensive plays, and already, just four quarters into the season, we're scratching our heads and wondering why. Is it really reasonable to pass on third-and-short every time? The last time Billick did it was in the fourth quarter - Kyle Boller's interception that ended the Ravens' final drive near the goal line.

Because we all know how important it is to establish the running game in this league, the Ravens came out and threw the ball on five of their first six plays of the game. In the first half, the most impressive runs were actually made by Musa Smith, who scored the Ravens' only offensive touchdown.

In the game's waning moments, McGahee had three tries at the end zone from within the 10-yard line. A touchdown would've tied the game. McGahee failed on all three attempts and finished the night with 77 yards on 19 carries.

"We can get better, and we will get better," McNair said. "I'm guaranteeing that."

The best step from here is to treat last night like an extension of the preseason. Sure, the loss counts in the standings, but there's a lot of room for growth. So it's back to the drawing board. Time to take a closer look at that playbook.

Let's just hope that the Ravens learned something last night and no one fumbles it.

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