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Don't Blame the Refs

The referees got it right on the bizarre last second field goal attempt by Cleveland in their 33-30 OT win in Baltimore yesterday. It might have taken awhile, but after huddling and talking amongst themselves, the kick was indeed good. I saw it myself live at the stadium and I was right along the end zone line when I saw it hit the goalposts twice and bounce back onto the field. I was happily on my way out the stadium when I saw the replay on the Club Level TV sets and knew it would be called good. I left anyway, knowing that the OT period just had to end badly for the Ravens. So don't blame the refs, it certainly wasn't their fault and if the situation was reversed, you'd want the correct call.

There was enough blame to go around the entire team for what should have been a Ravens victory. While the team never rolled over and quit when it certainly had the right to do so, the mistakes once agin doomed this team. Four turnovers, including a 100 yard interception return for a Cleveland TD could have easily put a dagger in Baltimore's heart in the second half. But Kyle Boller's resillency and determination led a rally in the fourth quarter and actually put the team in the lead with seconds to go. However, it was too many seconds to go and that is where I have my problem once again with the coaching decisionmaking.

Here's the difference between a great coach and Brian Billick. Tony Dungy and the Colts have the ball inside the Chiefs five yard line with two minutes to go in a tie game yesterday. Fourth and one, you'd think they'd kick the field goal to take a 13-10 lead, right? Nope, they go for the first down, make it and then rather than punching it in for the touchdown and giving the Chiefs a minute or so to try to tie it, Peyton Manning takes a knee three straight times, lowering the clock to four seconds left. Then they kick a game winning field goal as the clock expires. That's great coaching and superb clock management!

What does Ravens coach Brian Billick do in a similar situation? Tie game, third and one on the Browns 30 yard line, with 30 seconds left in the game. Billick calls for a pass, which of course falls incomplete and the Ravens kick the field goal to take the lead, leaving 23 seconds on the clock for Cleveland. You know what happened next (see above). The obvious call, once again, was to run the ball, either with Willis McGahee (102 yards) or a Kyle Boller quarterback sneak (he executed a third and two QB sneak earlier in the game). Even if the run was stopped, they could have either ran the clock down or forced the Browns to take one of their three remaining timeouts and then kick the field goal. If the Ravens made the first down, they could have ran the ball enough times to gain a couple of more yards, forcing the Browns to use their remaining timeouts and kick the game winner with no time on the clock. Despite all the mistakes the players made all game long, you can only shake your head at what he was thinking of (once again) when he called for that pass. In my section, we were all going crazy when we saw what was happening.

As I stated earlier in this posting, the blame can be evenly spread around the entire team. The defense couldn't stop Derek Anderson at both the end of regulation as well as the OT period. The offense looked typically vanilla in the first half and the four turnovers certainly put this team in a big hole. At the same time, I can't for the life of me figure why the Ravens chose to kick the ball to Cleveland's Josh Cribbs on BOTH of the final two drives. He's only the league's biggest kick return threat and put the Browns in great field position all game long! Either squib it to one of the up backs or kick it high enough to cause the Browns to call for a fair catch. Neither option is far fetched and all have happened this year. Why let him contribute to his team's chances with the game on the line - twice!?

No matter where you look in the blame game, one name keeps permeating throughout each and every close game the Ravens have lost this season. Coach Brian Billick time and time again has made the obvious poor calls whenever he seems to be in position to ensure his team's victory. Be it the first Cincinnati game, the Buffalo game or now this game, whenever the game is on the line and one specific call will make or break it, he has eschewed the run for the pass. Each time, he has failed miserably.

Now this team is looking at three tough games on the road, ones that would have been tough even if this team was winning and playing well. The Ravens could be going to Miami in week 15 with a 4-9 record and Miami still looking for their first win. The Dolphins could reasonably be expected to get their first win of the season against a free falling Ravens team that would put one of the many finishing touches on what will be called a nightmarish season.

It just keeps getting worse, but like a bad accident, I just can't look away.