SEATTLE -- Having a rookie quarterback make his first NFL start in a setting as raucous as Qwest Field against a team as respectable as the Seattle Seahawks would be difficult for teams with fewer issues to overcome than the Ravens have right now.
In other words, Troy Smith was the least of the problems in a get-us-to-the-end-of-the-season 27-6 loss yesterday for the Ravens.
The Ravens played like a team riding out a miserable season with their roster getting thinner and thinner by the week.
"Obviously we didn't have enough to compete with them," Ravens coach Brian Billick said after his team's ninth straight defeat.
As the serious injuries pile up - yesterday, it was Willis McGahee getting knocked out at the end of the first quarter with cracked ribs - so do the questions about where the Ravens need to go to avoid being an AFC North doormat again next season.
McGahee's replacement was not some up-and-comer who can be groomed to be his successor some day. It was Mike Anderson, a 33-year-old with more mileage and less acceleration than a 1996 Buick Regal. It was Anderson's fumble, and the subsequent touchdown return by Leroy Hill, that contributed to a 21-0 halftime deficit.
But it was probably over for the Ravens long before they arrived Friday night in the rainy Northwest.
The Ravens went into their second straight game without starting cornerbacks Samari Rolle and Chris McAlister. Though it took time for Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck to start attacking the secondary the way Peyton Manning of the Indianapolis Colts did two weeks ago, and even Dolphins neophyte Cleo Lemon did Dec. 16 in Miami, all Hasselbeck needed was a 21-yard touchdown pass to Nate Burleson to get the offense going.
Given the health, age and questions surrounding Rolle, and to a lesser extent McAlister, maybe the Ravens should be thinking about finding a cornerback. Corey Ivy, despite his valor coming back from a serious kidney injury last season, is certainly not a front-line player. David Pittman can soon be declared a bust.
"We played good. We fought hard. We fought to the end," rookie cornerback Willie Gaston said.
It was Gaston, an undrafted rookie out of Houston making his second NFL start, who got beat on the first touchdown when Burleson ran a fade route. It was a route Gaston had seen the Seahawks run on film, but still he got fooled. Gaston chalked it up to inexperience.
"I need to get all the experience that I can to show that I can play at this level and to build the confidence to play at this level," Gaston said. "I feel like I'm getting better."
As competitive as the Ravens were three weeks ago in nearly beating the New England Patriots, as hard as they tried to avoid embarrassment against the Dolphins, they look like a team on a free fall to a high draft pick come April.
There's the rub: Given how many deficiencies the Ravens have demonstrated this season, what position are general manager Ozzie Newsome and his scouting department going to go after? A shutdown corner? A sun-blocking offensive tackle? Another quarterback?
Smith did little to stir a quarterback controversy come training camp, or quash the debate that surrounded him coming out of Ohio State after winning the Heisman Trophy. He made a few plays with his feet early on, but he also fumbled twice and nearly threw a couple of interceptions before hitting Derrick Mason for a meaningless 79-yard touchdown pass late in the game.
So the Ravens might want to think about drafting a quarterback to add to the mix at McDaniel College next summer, such as Hawaii's Colt Brennan or Boston College's Matt Ryan. Next week's season finale against the Pittsburgh Steelers will have the feel of a mid-August preseason game, but for Smith, it could be a factor in the direction his career turns.
Asked to assess Smith's first NFL start, Ravens offensive coordinator Rick Neuheisel said: "There were some great things that he did and there were some things that he'll learn from. I'll have to watch the film to do a good job of evaluating him, but as far as looking composed, I thought he did a nice job."
Smith might have, but you never would have noticed, given all the other issues hindering the Ravens these days.
The Ravens played yesterday's game at Seattle without 10 significant contributors (six starters and four top backups):
DL Trevor Pryce
CB Chris McAlister
CB Samari Rolle
QB Steve McNair
PR-KR B.J. Sams
LB Ray Lewis
TE Todd Heap
QB Kyle Boller
TE Daniel Wilcox