Before the game, Steve McNair spoke up for himself. After the game, his teammates spoke up for him.
But his actions have spoken louder than any of their words. His actions are screaming out: This is the end. For McNair as the Ravens' starting quarterback, and for the Ravens as the Super Bowl contenders he was supposed to have turned them into.
Not that this is much of a news flash, the idea that McNair isn't going to take the Ravens to the top. The 15-6 playoff loss to the Colts at M&T; Bank Stadium in January, smashing the dreams brought on by a 13-3 season, had the feel of a window slamming shut. But it took until yesterday, in the same stadium in front of the same numbed fans, for the finality of it to sink in. They had their one chance, they let it get away, and it's not coming back.
To now blurt out, as so many others have, "Send in Kyle," is easy, and crazy. Kyle Boller isn't taking this team to the playoffs, not against the schedule the rest of the way. If you see Boller as the savior, then you're deluded not so much about his ability, but about where this edition of the Ravens is truly headed.
They're truly headed toward April, and they need to start figuring out how they can move high enough to draft the next franchise quarterback. Of course, if either McNair or Boller keeps taking the offense down the path it's on now, they won't have to worry about trading up.
Yesterday, the Ravens lost to the Cincinnati Bengals, 21-7. At home. To the team with the second-worst defense in the NFL. Lost without letting that Bengals offense get into the end zone, the defense hanging on for dear life with the bottom of the depth chart playing cornerback. McNair threw a shutout for his 50 minutes and eight possessions in charge, and aided his own destruction with three of the Ravens' six turnovers, each uglier than the previous one.
He now has 11 turnovers and two touchdown passes for the season. That's beyond unacceptable. That's inexcusable. It's rock bottom - so far.
Defiant in the middle of last week about his ability to turn his season around, McNair was as perplexed and downcast last night as everybody else after the shameful performance against the Bengals.
"This is probably the lowest point of my career I've ever had, these last two games," he said. "What do I need to do about it? What is the answer? I don't know. I'm playing hard, doing all I can to help this team, but it's just not there." He looked pained to have to admit any of it.
Just not as pained as we all were watching it.
It was as if, for the second straight week - but against a far worse opponent, in more favorable conditions - McNair was aging before our eyes, like some victim of an alien virus on an old Star Trek episode.
Quarterbacks who can't score points are no good to you. Neither are ones who can't hold on to the ball. It's what got Boller out and McNair in. When Boller gave McNair an extra week to heal, in Buffalo the week before the bye, he had the Ravens down 9-0 at halftime, just as McNair had them yesterday. The combined halftime score in their three consecutive losses is 53-7.
Now what? Now, you start from scratch. You keep trying to win this year, but you get realistic and stop pretending that you're a lucky break here or there away from jumping back into contention.
The odds are still better that McNair will snap out of it and, at the very least, go back to protecting the ball. If nothing else, the other Ravens are standing by him.
Said wide receiver Derrick Mason, the Ravens' go-to authority on McNair: "You're going through a rut like that, you've just got to fight your way out of it. In a season, in a game, we've all been through it. You just have to find a way to get over that hump."
But Mason acknowledged that he had never seen McNair play like this.
Sadly, the Ravens and their faithful (for now) have seen something similar. "That reminded me of the Colts game," wide receiver Mark Clayton said, referring to another home loss in which the other team didn't score a touchdown.
McNair threw two crushing interceptions in that game, too, one from point-blank scoring range. It was the beginning of the end.
Welcome to the end.
Opponent ............. Date ............. Fum.
at Cincinnati ....... Sept. 10 .......... 3
vs. Arizona ............. Sept. 23 .......... 1
at Pittsburgh ......... Nov. 5 ............. 1
vs. Cincinnati ...... Nov. 11 .............. 2