Ravens' Disappointing Season Fizzles to a Close
Monday, January 2, 2006
CLEVELAND, Jan. 1 -- The Baltimore Ravens were down to their final chance on Sunday afternoon, facing a fourth and 20 and a four-point deficit in the final 90 seconds in their game against the Cleveland Browns. And like so many times in this disappointing season, the Ravens couldn't make a play. Quarterback Kyle Boller was intercepted, and that sealed Baltimore's 20-16 loss, its 11th consecutive road defeat.
It was a fitting end to a 6-10 season for the Ravens, a veteran team that opened training camp with Super Bowl aspirations. The same problems that doomed them early in the season -- settling for field goals instead of touchdowns, ill-timed penalties, costly turnovers -- resurfaced on Sunday. Any momentum gained in their recent two-game winning streak dissipated inside Cleveland Browns Stadium.
"It is always disappointing to lose, especially the last game," said Brian Billick, whose team finished with its fewest number of wins in his seven-year tenure as head coach. "You have to carry that with you the entire offseason."
The Ravens have plenty to think about during the offseason, like what to do with running back Jamal Lewis (who is set to become an unrestricted free agent) and Boller (who completed his third season as the Ravens' starting quarterback).
Lewis had 20 carries for 89 yards to finish the year with 906 yards, the first time in his career he has failed to rush for 1,000 yards in a season. Boller didn't look like the confident quarterback of the past two weeks, when he completed 70 percent of his passes and threw for six touchdowns in wins over Green Bay and Minnesota. Against Cleveland (6-10), he reverted to his inconsistent former self, going 15 of 36 for 151 yards and two interceptions.
Boller connected with wide receiver Derrick Mason on a 31-yard pass play late in the first quarter, but with the game on the line in the fourth, his pass to an open Mason sailed out of bounds. He directed the Ravens inside the Cleveland 15-yard line three times but couldn't get them into the end zone.
Billick has made it clear Boller was being evaluated over the final month of the season. When asked if he considers himself to be Baltimore's starting quarterback, Boller replied: "I hope so. You're going to have to ask the coaches about that kind of stuff. I'm just going to keep working. There's so much room for improvement, and I feel like I can be that much better of a player, and I think I will be."
The Ravens held a 13-0 lead midway through the second quarter and appeared to be in control of the game. Cleveland had a total of minus-three yards of offense and had yet to gain a first down. Baltimore had forced two turnovers: a Tommy Polley interception and a Terrell Suggs forced fumble.
Polley's interception led to a botched field goal attempt after a poor snap, but Suggs's fumble was recovered by linebacker Adalius Thomas and returned nine yards for a touchdown and the 13-0 advantage. Thomas, who earlier in the week was voted the team's most valuable player by the local media, finished tied for third on the team with three touchdowns.
But Baltimore couldn't put away the Browns. Rookie quarterback Charlie Frye settled down and led Cleveland to two field goals in the final three minutes of the first half.
"We let them get a couple of plays at the end of the first half, and they got their confidence up, especially the rookie quarterback," Polley said of Frye, who completed 22 of 38 passes for 199 yards.
Two special teams breakdowns by the Ravens in the third quarter gave the Browns the lead. Rookie Josh Cribbs, who was an All-Met quarterback at Dunbar, returned a kickoff 54 yards to set up Cleveland's only offensive touchdown of the game, a six-yard pass to Antonio Bryant (nine catches for 123 yards). The Ravens went three and out on their next possession, and Dennis Northcutt returned the ensuing punt 62 yards for a touchdown and a 20-16 lead with 6 minutes 5 seconds left in the third quarter.
"I don't know whether our focus was on something else or we were complacent or content with our 13-point lead," said Mason, who had three catches for 73 yards. "You can't blame it on play-calling, because we called the same plays today that we did two, three, four weeks ago. It's up to the players to go out and generate some type of energy.
"I think we lacked in the second half the intensity that it takes to win ballgames."
Ravens Note: In what is expected to be the final game of his 14-year career, Deion Sanders started at cornerback in place of the injured Chris McAlister (thigh). He also took one snap on offense, taking a lateral for no gain. Sanders declined to answer any questions regarding retirement following the game, saying he wanted to wait until he is back in Baltimore to address the situation.