Keep football and team could keep sanity

The Baltimore Sun

If the Ravens want a new beginning with coach John Harbaugh, they can't start repeating the same mistakes against the Cincinnati Bengals, their season-opening opponent.

In two games against that AFC North rival last season, the Ravens committed an astounding 12 turnovers. They fumbled eight times and threw four interceptions.

Considering the Ravens had 24 drives against Cincinnati, they gave up the ball on half of their possessions.

It was a comedy of errors that began in last year's opener in Cincinnati, where the Ravens became the first team in nine years to fumble three times in the same quarter. They coughed the ball up on three of their first four possessions of the season, including fumbling on three straight drives.

There was a muffed handoff to running back Willis McGahee. There was quarterback Steve McNair fumbling while getting sacked. And there was fullback Le'Ron McClain losing the ball while trying to fight for extra yards.

It began a trend of giving up the ball as well as points.

The Ravens basically handed these two games over to the Bengals. Of Cincinnati's 48 points scored last season against the Ravens, 33 of them came as the result of turnovers.

Much of the blame was directed at McNair, who had seven turnovers against the Bengals (five fumbles and two interceptions). But it would be naive to think the Ravens' turnover problems left with McNair.

The Ravens are going with rookie quarterback Joe Flacco, who will be starting his first NFL game. Typically, young quarterbacks commit more turnovers because they are adjusting to the speed of the game.

Last season, four rookie quarterbacks started in the NFL (the Buffalo Bills' Trent Edwards, the Miami Dolphins' John Beck, the Carolina Panthers' Matt Moore and the Ravens' Troy Smith). They combined for 23 turnovers (16 interceptions and seven lost fumbles) in 28 games.

Flacco, who fumbled early in the preseason, didn't have a problem with turnovers in college. He threw 15 interceptions in 938 passes. (That's one pick every 62.5 pass attempts.) He fumbled 10 times in 26 games, losing the ball four times.

So, with a new quarterback and a new coach, this is the season in which the Ravens want to turn over a new leaf. They just have to start by not turning the ball over.

TURNOVER TROUBLES

The Ravens set a franchise record with 40 turnovers last season. A look at their six worst seasons in terms of giveaways :

Year Fumbles INT Total

2007 ........ 26 ..... 14 ..... 40

2003 ........ 19 ..... 19 ..... 38

2005 ........ 15 ..... 21 ..... 36

2001 ....... 16 ..... 20 ..... 36

1997 ....... 17 ...... 16 ..... 33

1996 ....... 13 ..... 20 ..... 33

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