Few things in the NFL are tougher on players, coaches and staff than a cross-country ride home after a loss on the West Coast. The Ravens are in the middle of such a trip tonight after losing to the Chargers in Qualcomm Stadium.
It’s two hours after the game’s final play before you’ve showered, seen the trainers about injuries, spoken to the media, taken the ride on the buses to the airport – then go through security and wait about 45 minutes to leave as the equipment guys load up the many trunks needed for the game. Then, it’s a three to four hour flight with a three-hour time change when you finally land to BWI and board the buses for the 30-40 minute ride back to Owings Mills.
When you win, the time flies as players play cards in the back of the plane, staffers and guests of the team are all smiles as the food is brought around and the coaching staff is already breaking down tape and discussing the next week’s opponent. The noise can be much like a bar at happy hour.
A loss means most folks are in a surly mood, checking their watches to see how long the flight has to go, catching some sleep if they can and generally keeping to themselves. Silence is the order of the evening — the only noise coming from the headsets of those watching the now-boring movie on the flight.
The Ravens’ flight home will seem even longer after the way the club lost to the Chargers. An uneven San Diego team whose quarterback — Philip Rivers — had thrown five interceptions and only one touchdown in the last three games. A team who has one of the top players in the game — running back LaDainian Tomlinson — who had not run for over 100 yards in the previous four games. A run-first team that looked to play into the hands of a defense that relished a challenge by one of the game’s best backs and the one game I thought the Ravens would win when I looked at the six-game stretch the club faced after the bye week.
As Bob Haynie so astutely predicted, Rivers would be and was the difference in the contest. He had his third-best completion percentage day of the season — 71.4 percent on 25 of 35 passing — and threw for three scores in the 32-14 victory.
Four different receivers caught five or more balls from Rivers, led by tight end Antonio Gates who had six catches for 105 yards and two TDs.
San Diego rolled up 332 yards of total offense on an average 5.1 yards per play — the third straight week the Ravens defense has allowed 325-plus yards.
The current five-game losing streak has all but officially eliminated the Ravens from the AFC playoff race. Now, the goal each week continues to be to win games, improve in all phases and continue the evaluation of the roster for 2008 and beyond.
In short, the weekly goals do not change for Ozzie Newsome, Brian Billick, the coaching staff and the players. Until they tell you to stop playing after your final game on Dec. 30, you continue to do what you do each week — no exceptions. To do anything radically different would only bring chaos to the NFL’s very ordered world. There will be plenty of time for evaluation and changes in the offseason, but everyone on the team — players and coaches — owe each other a complete effort each week.
There are five games left in an increasingly long season for the Ravens. The fans will offer their theories about what has gone wrong so far and what changes need to be made. Inside the Owings Mills headquarters, the Ravens’ braintrust will meet tomorrow as they do every Monday and discuss the game just past and the one coming up along with injuries, depth chart changes and other bits of information. The media will ask questions to Billick during his weekly press conference and to the players in the open locker room media period.
It will be a Monday just like the 10 before it during the season and one just like the five to follow it. No pronouncements, guarantees or boasts from the locker room. An even-keel tone from the head coach and the coordinators as they talk to the media. Training room time, position meetings and practice go on at the same exact times as they do each day since training camp began – regardless if the team has lost five straight or if it is the opening week of the sesason.
Even after a long flight home after a tough loss, each Monday of a game week has the promise of better things ahead if you continue to conduct business as usual — just as the calendar demands.
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