Burned by blunders
Champs going home after committing four turnoversPosted: Sunday January 20, 2002 4:08 PM
Updated: Sunday January 20, 2002 5:30 PM
PITTSBURGH (AP) -- The Baltimore Ravens were done in by the same shortcomings that characterized their tumultuous season as defending Super Bowl champions.
Stopped by three first-half turnovers, a variety of costly penalties and the complete lack of a running game, the Ravens were unceremoniously bounced from the NFL playoffs Sunday in a 27-10 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
"The way we lost throughout the year is the way we lost today. That's very disappointing," said safety Rod Woodson, one of several Ravens who may not be back with the team next season.
Baltimore's poor performance Sunday proved to be an appropriate end to a season in which the Ravens were stretched to the final day before qualifying for a playoff berth.
Baltimore beat an injury-depleted Miami team in the opening round, but all the problems that plagued the Ravens during the season resurfaced in glaring fashion at Heinz Field.
An inefficient offense one flaw. A lack of swagger was another, even though the Ravens appeared to give the impression that they were too good to lose.
"There's a fine line between winning and losing, there's a fine line between cockiness and believing in yourself. I don't know what side of that fine line we were on this year," Woodson said.
Grbac finished 18-for-37 for 153 yards, with three interceptions. He ended a rocky first year in Baltimore with 21 interceptions and just 16 touchdown passes.
More telling is this statistic: Baltimore was 0-6 when Grbac threw at least two interceptions.
Grbac came to Baltimore saying that this season would be a failure if he didn't duplicate Dilfer's accomplishment of winning a Super Bowl. He didn't stray from that assessment in the wake of Sunday's humbling defeat.
"A failure? In my eyes, it is," he declared.
Grbac was not entirely to blame Sunday because he had little running game to back him up -- Baltimore rushed for a mere 22 yards.
The plan back in March was for Grbac to work in unison with Jamal Lewis, who ran for 1,364 yards as a rookie last season. But Lewis tore a knee ligament in training camp and was lost for the year.
An aging Terry Allen proved inadequate as Lewis' replacement. Although Allen ran for 133 yards against the Dolphins last week, he gained 11 yards on four carries Sunday and lost a fumble.
Allen will not be back next season. Lewis will, and so likely will Grbac, who received unwavering support from head coach Brian Billick throughout the season.
Grbac and the Ravens' offense must improve next season if Baltimore is to succeed again in the playoffs. Baltimore was 5-0 in the postseason under Billick before Sunday's debacle.
Baltimore's next mistake, on its second possession, proved even more disastrous. Alvin Porter was penalized for an illegal block on a punt, and Pittsburgh gained 18 yards in field position on the re-kick.
Starting from its own 49, Pittsburgh went the distance in six plays, aided in part by a face-mask penalty against Chris McAlister. It was only the second touchdown allowed by the Baltimore defense in six playoff games.
There were more to come, far more than the Ravens' offense could overcome.
McAlister intercepted Kordell Stewart's pass late in the first quarter and brought it to the Pittsburgh 7, but Kipp Vickers jumped offside on first down and Grbac threw an interception on second down.
Baltimore needed 27 minutes to notch its initial first down. By halftime, the Ravens had 75 yards in offense and 40 yards in penalties.
An 88-yard punt return by Jermaine Lewis made it 20-10 in the third quarter, but the Ravens failed to get a first down in the period and managed only three through three quarters.
"At some point I'll look back -- as this team will -- and see some of the things we did during the year that we can be proud of," Billick said. "But it won't be today, it won't be tomorrow, it won't be for a while."