Billick's Debut Spoiled, by Everyone
Special to The Washington Post
Monday, September 13, 1999; Page D8
ST. LOUIS, Sept. 12 Brian Billick could not begin to enumerate the ways his Baltimore Ravens failed on the field today.
"You don't have enough paper to list all of my frustrations," Billick said.
From its ineffective offense to its porous defense, Baltimore ruined Billick's head coaching debut by losing 27-10 to the St. Louis Rams before 62,100 at the Trans World Dome. It marks the third consecutive year the Ravens have dropped their season opener.
Quarterback Scott Mitchell's first game with the Ravens was far from auspicious. His first pass fell incomplete. His second attempt resulted in a sack for a seven-yard loss. He was unable to complete two passes in a row until late in the third quarter. In all, the former Lions quarterback completed 17 of 40 passes for 188 yards, but was sacked five times and threw two interceptions.
Despite all that, Billick was reluctant to find too much fault with his quarterback.
"You all are going to blame Scott for a lot of things that aren't all Scott's fault," Billick said. "There's a lot going on around him, whether it is protection or routes from the skill level we have outside."
Mitchell did not get much help from his receivers. Although several of his passes were overthrown, others were on target but dropped. On third and 17, Justin Armour made a spectacular catch for 22 yards and a first down. However, Armour failed to catch the pass Mitchell threw right at him on the next play. And he was not the only receiver to bobble the ball. Jermaine Lewis, the Ravens' leading receiver last season, failed to catch a pass.
Baltimore's running game did not fare much better. Priest Holmes, who strained his knee during the game and is listed as probable for next week's game against Pittsburgh, carried the ball 12 times but gained only 52 yards. He had to do much of his running without the blocking of left tackle Jonathan Ogden, who suffered a hip strain early in the second quarter and left the game.
Two drives were indicative of the Ravens' offensive problems. After rookie cornerback Chris McAlister scooped up a tipped pass for an interception in the second quarter, Baltimore had the ball on the Rams 6-yard line. However, the Ravens could not get into the end zone, settling for Matt Stover's 25-yard field goal. The four-play drive went minus-one yard and took 1 minute 22 seconds. In the fourth quarter, after Rams quarterback Kurt Warner fumbled and Fernando Smith recovered on the St. Louis 30, the Ravens lost 14 yards before Stover missed a 54-yard field goal.
The defense struggled as well. The Ravens came into the game determined not to let Marshall Faulk, who rolled up 192 yards against Baltimore last season with Indianapolis, beat them on the ground. The Ravens succeeded in holding Faulk to just 54 yards on 19 carries. But Warner, a former NFL Europe and Arena League quarterback, had a career day. Warner, who previously had completed just four passes in the NFL, became the first St. Louis quarterback since Sept. 7, 1997, to throw for three touchdowns in a game. He threw to seven different receivers, completing 28 of 44 passes for 316 yards.
The Ravens scored their only touchdown on Mitchell's best drive of the game. He completed 4 of 6 passes, including a 28-yard throw to Brandon Stokley in the left corner of the end zone with 15 seconds left in the third quarter.
"The only thing that can hurt us is if we start pointing fingers and say, this guy can do better, or that guy can do better," Mitchell said. "Everyone has now just got to focus on their assignment and their responsibility and we will be just fine."
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