Ravens survive an ugly effort only because 49ers were worse

The Baltimore Sun

SAN FRANCISCO -- Is it over yet?

Sometime during the three hours the Ravens played the San Francisco 49ers at Monster Park yesterday, you had a chance to catch up on homework, wash and wax the car, put the summer patio furniture in the shed for the winter and take a nap.

And still not miss much when you returned to the game.

The Ravens hung on for a 9-7 win, but the ugliness that is also known as parity in the NFL was on full display. The Ravens were boring, undisciplined and unimaginative in an effort that can be best described as trying to survive.

The 49ers were worse. They were atrocious, downtrodden and at times so pathetic that they were comical. Pro football is the No. 1 sport in this country, but the NFL had better be careful. Fans want to be entertained, and there was no entertainment yesterday.

The Ravens are definitely one of the worst teams at drawing fans when on the road. While games may be sellouts in terms of ticket sales, there were plenty of empty seats in Cleveland last weekend and even more yesterday in San Francisco.

And please, let's not hear more of those "a win is a win" quotes. If you're paying $60 a pop for a ticket, both teams should attempt to score touchdowns, not steal pages out of each other's playbooks.

No confidence in Dilfer

You feel bad for the 49ers because they have so much history and excitement. Here's a franchise that produced Joe Montana, Steve Young, Roger Craig, Dwight Clark, John Taylor and Jerry Rice.

Now flash forward to yesterday, and you have a quarterback in Trent Dilfer who had trouble completing screen passes.

Coach Mike Nolan had so little faith in Dilfer that he didn't try to go downfield passing the ball until the third quarter. His team was booed midway through the second quarter after sending running back Frank Gore into the middle of the line numerous times on carries.

Even on third-and-nine at the Ravens' 36-yard line, Nolan ran a draw to Gore for 2 yards instead of allowing Dilfer to pass downfield. Joe Nedney then missed a 52-yard field-goal attempt with 2:44 left in the game.

That's a loser's mentality, and the 49ers deserved to lose. You can't play a team good at defending the run -- like the Ravens -- and not try to go downfield.

As for Dilfer, he surprised me. He almost made it through the game without tripping over his feet. All former and current Ravens quarterbacks have that problem.

Dilfer apologized to Ravens coach Brian Billick this past week. Now he and Nolan should apologize to 49ers fans for that shameful offensive performance.

Stalling out

The Ravens are playoff contenders, but this is why I don't take them seriously right now: The Ravens had a scoring drive of eight plays -- lasting 3:14 -- that gained only 11 yards, after an interception by Ed Reed gave them the ball at the 49ers' 42-yard line early in the third quarter.

Matt Stover came out to bail out the offense again with a 49-yard field goal.

My other favorite moments are when the wide receivers run 1 and 2 yards short of the first-down markers on pass patterns. And, yes, Derrick Mason did run a 2-yard slant pattern yesterday.

The offensive masterminds must have been up all night designing that one.

Reputation precedes them

The officials made a bad call on Mason after he caught a 9-yard pass early in the fourth quarter. Mason was hurt on the play and threw the ball up in the air. He was called for a delay-of-game penalty.

But those calls wouldn't happen if the Ravens stopped acting like goofballs whenever they make big plays. If the showboating stopped, the Ravens might get some calls.

But unless they improve their behavior and the image, they aren't going to get many breaks. Guys, it's time to grow up.

Solid 'O' line

The Ravens' offensive line for most of the second half could be the line of the future with Jared Gaither and Marshal Yanda at the tackles, Jason Brown and Ben Grubbs at guard and Chris Chester at center.

The only differences could be Adam Terry at left tackle, Gaither on the right and Yanda as a swing guard and tackle.

Grubbs started his first game yesterday, and the first-round pick out of Auburn played fairly well. He has good feet and good technique, especially at getting his hips around and turning opponents.

History repeating

"It was frustrating. We'd get into the red zone and had to settle for field goals. We've got to do better. It's something we're going to have to work on," said Ravens quarterback Steve McNair.

Excuse me, but haven't we heard those exact words before from Dilfer, Tony Banks, Anthony Wright, Elvis Grbac, Kyle Boller and every other Ravens quarterback since 1999?

If the Ravens can't score touchdowns against poor defensive teams like the Browns and Bengals, how are they going to score against New England or San Diego?

Final thoughts

With tight ends Todd Heap and Daniel Wilcox out with injuries, backup Quinn Sypniewski has stepped up during the past two weeks and played well. Sypniewski (four catches, 28 yards) has become a solid pass catcher. When the Ravens drafted him a year ago, Sypniewski was basically a blocker with poor hands.

Running back Willis McGahee (22 carries, 88 yards) always seems to get positive yards, making something out of nothing. What disturbs me is how the Ravens take him out of the game once he gets on a roll. It seems like every time he touches the ball two times in a row, he comes out.

The Ravens had more injuries yesterday, but they can't be used as an excuse for the poor showing. False starts, poor third-down efficiency and little production in the red zone have hampered the team all season, injuries or no injuries.


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