Given the sorry state of the Ravens' offense—before Sunday's game it hadn't produced two touchdowns in a game since a 19-13 overtime win over the Falcons in Week 4—it's a wonder Billick didn't crack sooner. The offensive coordinator for a Vikings team that scored a league-record 556 points last season, he has introduced a playbook that seems far too demanding of the three quarterbacks the Ravens have started this year, but the coach is at least partially to blame in other ways, too.
Upon his arrival in Baltimore, Billick explored a trade for Vikings backup Brad Johnson, but decided the asking price was too high. Instead, he unloaded holdover quarterbacks Jim Harbaugh and Eric Zeier and traded for Scott Mitchell, a 10-year veteran who was a bust in five years with Detroit. Billick hoped Mitchell would experience a rebirth like the one Randall Cunningham enjoyed in Minnesota in '98. But Billick benched Mitchell and his anemic 31.5 passer rating just six quarters into the season, then watched Stoney Case and Tony Banks fare no better. When two late Banks turnovers cost Baltimore an Oct. 31 game against the Bills, the team appeared to be in utter disarray.
Even as the Ravens were hitting bottom, it was easy to see why the Baltimore job was the most appealing. Rather than slowly build a team from its infancy, Billick wanted to win quickly. Baltimore's second-ranked yet unheralded defense, led by brilliant middle linebacker Ray Lewis, gives him that chance. That unit held the hapless Browns to 159 yards of offense, while Banks chipped in with mistake-free play and the ground game produced a season-high 203 rushing yards. It was the 3-5 Ravens' most complete effort of the year, one that sent thousands of Cleveland fans home early, and Billick back to Baltimore with his smile—and sanity—intact for at least another week.
Coslet's Job Safe, but Why?
Cincinnati coach Bruce Coslet's job appears safe at least through the end of this season. "A coaching change would only make it worse," Bengals president Mike Brown said before a 37-20 loss to the Seahawks dropped his team to 1-8. Would it? Coslet, who took over midway through the '96 season, doesn't have a road victory over a team with a winning record. Cincinnati was 3-13 last year, and this season the Bengals have lost five games by at least 20 points....
After eight losing seasons with the Rams, during which the franchise was 40-88, free-agent linebacker Roman Phifer signed with, the AFC East champion Jets in the off-season. Now St. Louis is 6-2 and leading the NFC West, and New York is 2-6 and last in its division....
Expect some teams to ship more young players to NFL Europe next spring. "We see it as a tool that can pay dividends," says Patriots director of pro scouting Dave Uyrus. "We've got to find ways to develop more talent, and [that means] these middle-round draft choices have to go someplace and play."
The End Zone
Running The Table
With a 31-16 loss to the Bucs on Sunday, the Saints fell to 1-7. "We're behind the eight ball," said New Orleans center Jerry Fontenot. "Actually, we're in one of the corner pockets, and we've got to find a way to get out of the hole."