The frustrations of a losing season were beginning to break through. Only minutes after the Ravens had finished their inaugural season in Baltimore with a 24-21 loss to the Houston Oilers before 52,704 at Memorial Stadium, a couple of their players suggested a few of their teammates had quit and were not totally prepared.
"There are people and players here and there that didn't look quite like they gave it their all," said Ravens receiver Michael Jackson, who had three touchdown receptions yesterday, including one of 86 yards. "It was like, 'OK, we have 10 minutes, and it's over for the year.' That's something we need to work on going into next season."
Ravens running back Bam Morris agreed.
"That's exactly what I'm talking about," said Morris, who had 81 ++ yards on 12 carries. "Some of the same guys are making the same mistakes they made in preseason. Preparation doesn't start the day of the game, but the week of the game.
"In Pittsburgh [where Morris played last season], everyone was dying to make a play. Here, nobody wants to make that play. It's frustrating. And until we take it upon ourselves to learn how to win, it's going to be the same way again next year."
The Ravens lost yesterday after Jackson caught a 4-yard touchdown pass in the left corner of the end zone with 13 seconds left in the game to bring the Ravens within three, but Oilers tight end James McKeehan recovered Matt Stover's onside kick at the Oilers' 36 to end the comeback attempt.
The Ravens finished at 4-12 and never came close to fulfilling their 1996 motto of "Why Not Us?" Instead, they will get the No. 4 pick in the April draft again, unless they decide to trade down or make a player move.
It will be the second year in a row that the Browns/Ravens have the fourth selection. The Browns finished the 1995 season 5-11.
"We need to get to the passer," Ravens coach Ted Marchibroda said when asked about the team's top need for next season. "It has to be a pass rusher, whether it comes from the defensive end or a linebacker. I don't know at this particular time, but we need the pass rush. It will be defense."
The signs were there again yesterday, as they have been all year. Houston quarterback Steve McNair, making only his sixth NFL start, completed 19 of 24 passes for 238 yards and a touchdown.
And this wasn't big-play material either. The Oilers threw underneath, allowing their receivers and running backs to match up with the Ravens linebackers and safeties.
"They definitely did a good job of matching up underneath," said Ravens reserve safety Vashone Adams. "What was their longest pass, like 20 yards? We didn't expect that to be a problem, but it was. We couldn't stop them on third-and-six and third-and-eight situations."
They couldn't stop the Oilers' running attack either. Houston rushed for 117 yards on 36 attempts, most by rookie Eddie George, who had 85 yards.
Ravens sacks? Defensive tackle Elliott Fortune had one. That's it. Big plays? There was the 20-yard reception by halfback Ronnie Harmon in the first drive, followed by a 40-yard run from George, which set up his own 1-yard touchdown run that gave the Oilers a 7-0 lead with 10: 21 left in the first quarter.
Then there was the 43-yard reception by Harmon later in the first quarter. It started with McNair's fumbling the snap, then throwing a 4-yard pass over the middle, which Harmon ran down to the Ravens' 9. Three plays later, Al Del Greco kicked a 37-yard field goal to put the Oilers ahead 10-7 with 1: 12 left in the period.
"We were blitzing on that play, and everybody kind of gravitated to the ball," Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis said of Harmon's big play. "They got the bounce, and we got burned. We haven't gotten a lot of bounces all year."
The Ravens' offense was sputtering around just as much as the defense. Quarterback Vinny Testaverde completed 23 of 32 passes for 307 yards and three touchdowns, but he was intercepted twice, once in the Oilers' end zone, which stopped a drive at the Houston 25 with 12: 30 left in the first half.
Ravens receiver Floyd Turner was open on the play, but safety Marcus Robertson came over to pick off a pass that hung in the air too long.
"They gave Floyd the deep pass, but I just didn't get enough arm on it," said Testaverde. "It was my fault."
The Ravens had other opportunities in the first half, but, both times, drives stalled in the second quarter when Testaverde was sacked. Testaverde was sacked four times yesterday.
The only Ravens touchdown in the first half came on a 34-yard pass Jackson caught along the left sideline and ran the remaining 52 yards for a touchdown with 6: 10 left in the first quarter.
"From Day One, we said Michael Jackson was going to be our clutch receiver, and he has been that receiver for us," said Testaverde. "That's a lot of pressure to put on one person, but he has had a great year."
But Jackson doesn't play defense. And Houston went 84 yards on 13 plays for a touchdown on its first possession of the third quarter. McNair ran the final 24 yards on a scramble up the middle to put the Oilers ahead 24-7 with 1: 19 left in the quarter, as safety Stevon Moore failed to collapse quickly enough on McNair.
More importantly, the drive lasted 8: 38, and the Ravens had only one legitimate possession in the third quarter.
The Ravens scored on their next possession, as Testaverde finished a seven-play, 58-yard drive with an 8-yard touchdown pass to Jackson on a slant-in, but the Ravens couldn't score again until 13 seconds remained in the game.
"I'm disappointed. We were a lot better team," said left offensive tackle Tony Jones, who may have been playing his last game with the Ravens. "We had talent. We showed spurts of it, but we weren't consistent."
There were other problems. Even during the final game of the season, the Ravens had problems lining up in the right formations, and twice had to use timeouts to straighten out alignments.
During the team's first full off-season in Baltimore, Marchibroda will have time to work out the kinks in his offense and defense and draft some talent to shore up the pass rush, secondary and possibly add a speedy runner to complement Morris.
But now there may be another problem he has to solve.
"I didn't see anybody laying down today," said veteran special teams standout Bennie Thompson. "But if there were some guys quitting, it wasn't meant for them to be out there, and we need to kick those guys off the team."