Being at Qualcomm Stadium yesterday was like seeing your evil twin on the other side of the United States.
Much like our fan base in Baltimore, the Chargers fans were teased with a heady 2006 regular season and devastated with a home playoff upset loss in January that has led to disillusionment and unreasonable expectations for a 2007 season that has been a very bumpy ride in both cities.
At 5-5 before yesterday’s game, the boo-birds were circling the decrepit stadium on Interstate 8 just waiting to attack anything with a lightning bolt that didn’t have a No. 21 on its back.
Phillip Rivers? An underachieving quarterback who makes poor reads and isn’t living up to expectations.
Norv Turner? A puppet and a shadow of former 14-2 head coach Marty Schottenheimer’s 2006 genius.
General manager A.J. Smith? The personification of Public Enemy No. 1 for running off Schottenheimer in the first place, a very public battle of wills that has placed this franchise at a crossroads for its very future in San Diego in many ways.
Just seeing the deteriorating conditions of Qualcomm Stadium and the franchise’s tenuous (at best) situation in the city of San Diego (can you say Los Angeles Chargers?) first hand, you really get a glimpse of where the Baltimore Colts might’ve been in the late 1970s. They are trying to get a new stadium built here and host Super Bowls every couple of years into perpetuity, but one suburb has bailed and the final remaining candidate — a town way to the south near Tijuana called Chula Vista — is no sure thing.
I’ve seen 15 Chargers games at this stadium over the years and I’ve never seen a more strange and dark situation than yesterday’s lackluster atmosphere for football. It never got even remotely loud. The energy in the crowd was lacking, even at the points in the game when they were in complete control. Maybe it was the chilly weather or the team’s semi-chilly reception from its own fan base, but it was a bizarre day in San Diego all the way around.
And once the game started, the Chargers were in total control most of the way, throttling the Ravens in virtually every facet of the game once the game started slipping at 9-7.
And what can be said here about the Ravens’ 2007 campaign that the 4-7 record and current five-game losing streak does not already indicate?
The team is in the midst of a very clear freefall, which could easily find them with a stranglehold on last place in the AFC North and a lottery pick in April’s draft.
Even seeing the Eagles throw a nearly successful punch at the Patriots last night will have little effect on how big of an underdog the Ravens will be at home next Monday night as the Tom Brady show comes to the Inner Harbor. And how many people believe that the Ravens will even put on a representative showing next Monday night against the Pats, or even the following Sunday when Peyton Manning marches the horseshoes back home for the second time in 2007?
As for yesterday, Kyle Boller played, well, like Kyle Boller usually does. His heady 89.3 quarterback rating does not indicate the myriad of mistakes he makes and the lack of confidence many feel when he’s under center. He’s quite frankly, just not good enough at this point in his career to win these kind of road games because he can’t seem to avoid making huge mistakes that lead to slapstick turnovers, especially on the wrong side of the field.
And while he is a lightning rod for the abuse, Boller’s plight is merely a starting point for the Ravens’ woes.
His protection has been spotty at best, leaving the offensive line and blown protection schemes to blame. His inability to throw the most rudimentary of “touch” passes is mindboggling. And sometimes his receivers don’t catch balls they should catch or finish routes the way they should.
When he’s good, the rest of the team is bad. And when he’s bad, he’s ugly.
Defensively, the communication on the backside was embarrassing yesterday, leading even Ray Lewis to stand at his locker after the game and declare his side of the ball responsible for the loss. How Antonio Gates could be left as wide open as he was for much of the afternoon is just incomprehensible. And the Ravens “sack pack” finished another game without as much as a blade of grass on Chargers QB Phillip Rivers.
The special teams kicked the ball around again yesterday, despite a couple of decent returns by Yamon Figurs.
The injuries continue to mount and the biggest news of any game day seems to come when the inactive list is posted 90 minutes before gametime with names like Chris McAlister, Todd Heap, Trevor Pryce and Daniel Wilcox becoming regulars.
It’s just a mess, and holding the bag is our own version of scapegoat and Public Enemy No. 1, head coach Brian Billick.
Maybe it’s the arrogance of the early years in Baltimore or just the way fans are, but the heat on Billick — and in turn Steve Bisciotti — is just beginning on the shores of the Chesapeake. (Funny how no one EVER wants to fire Ozzie Newsome?)
Not much about the Ravens’ future is clear, but with five games remaining and Tom Brady and Peyton Manning on the Baltimore hotel registry over the next 13 days, I can make one promise/guarantee:
It’s ONLY going to get WORSE because the Ravens feel incapable of putting up any resistance over the next 120 minutes of football.
Granted, the team never quits under Billick, and many in the locker room talked about playing for pride these next two weeks so as to not get embarrassed on national television, but they’re just not very good right now.
The 2007 Baltimore Ravens — collectively — are a BAD football team.
The national talking heads are now speculating that Billick will be fired, all without any substantive basis considering that the only guy who will make that decision, Steve Bisciotti, doesn’t say much to anyone about anything during the season. And he has no history of being knee jerk in any fashion with hiring and firing. Remember: five short weeks ago, the Ravens were 4-2 and coming off a 13-3 season.
The Ravens front office continues to offer silence and the local media will point out the fine print and cash left on Billick’s deal as a reason he will not be departing. (And seeing the scene in San Diego this weekend was rich with irony given that Schottenheimer was no prince with the Chargers but he’s currently the most popular man who’s NOT in town anymore!)
Who knows how our fan base will react the next two weeks with the bright lights of national television and the two best players on the planet coming to town ready to pour salt in the wounds? And who knows how the team will play?
But here’s one prediction that it could get VERY ugly before New Year’s Day.
And once the buzzards begin to circle the carcass, who knows how this will turn out? The team feels incapable of beating anyone in the NFL this side of Miami (and they’ll get their chance to lose there soon enough).
If they lose 45-6 this week and 38-3 next week, you can only imagine what our radio station and website will sound and look like.
No one will be wanting to fire Ray Lewis or Willis McGahee.
And Billick will find out what the “combat pay” is really all about.
And Steve Bisciotti might be sorry he ever bought the Ravens.
Because it feels like it’s only going to get uglier around here and most of our fan base seems to be looking for one person to take the blame, as if replacing Billick with Vince Lombardi next year with guarantee success. Any trained eye should see that this trainwreck has clearly been an ensemble performance, but the fans here don’t accept that.
They want someone’s blood.
Just like the Chargers’ fans felt yesterday, right before the Ravens rolled into town and contributed to helping them gain sole possession of first place in the AFC West and a new lease on life for the 2007 season.
Sadly, even a representative and gutsy effort the next two weeks can’t save the 2007 Ravens.
Now, it’s just a matter of how ugly it’s going to get on the homefront.