For me baseball is a nice way to spend the summer, but I'm first and foremost a football fan. There was only an NFL team in Baltimore for one year when I lived there year-round and that was the Colts in 1983. By the time the Ravens showed up I hadn't been living in Maryland for six years, so I never was exactly a fan although I've followed them and am always happy whenever they do well. That's why I was so pissed off by last night's game against the Bengals. I know today the headlines will be that the refs or Steve McNair or Kyle Boller cost the Ravens the game, but the only person who deserves to have that responsibility placed on his head is Brian Billick.
I think that on an organizational level Billick is a pretty good head coach. He gets the Ravens to play hard, smart, and disciplined football, but I've always thought he is prone to some really boneheaded in-game decisions. A perfect example of that was in the playoff loss to the Colts last year. The Ravens had a 4th and 4 on the Indianapolis 41 down 12-3 in the third quarter. Billick lined up the offense, called a time out, and punted. The punt went to the Indianapolis 11 and on the first play of the Colts drive Dominick Rhodes ran 25 yards to the 36. Not only did Billick waste a time out and an opportunity to score in the second half of a close game, but one play later was only five yards better off than he would've been if the Ravens gave the ball up on downs. The Ravens were a team that averaged 3.44 per rushing attempt, which is a half yard shy of what they needed, but the Colts that gave up 5.33 yards per rushing attempt, which is enough to put the odds in favor of going for it, especially considering that the Ravens were at home and the defense was pitching a shutout against the Colts offense. It was a gutless decision on Billick's part, but it didn't seem to me he got a lot of criticism for it. Most sportswriters were so impressed with the Colts offense that Billick's bungle didn't get much attention even though the Ravens could've won that game if he had just gone for it.
Fast forward to last night's game. By the end of the first quarter the Ravens are down 9-0, but the Ravens' defense and special teams rise to the occasion and by the fourth quarter they've turned a 9-0 deficit to a 20-19 lead. There is 9:43 left in the game and the Ravens are driving on a obviously gassed Bengals defense that is giving up 4.3 rushing yards yards per attempt. The Ravens are faced with a third and one at their own 35. Easy call, right? Not if you're Brian Billick. In his mind that's a terrific time to get cute and ask his obviously less-than-100% quarterback to throw a pass, which is promptly intercepted putting the Ravens defense in a spot that even they can't succeed in and before you know it the score is 27-20 Cincinnati.
However, that wasn't enough for Billick. At the two minute warning, the Ravens have the ball at the Bengal one yard line. Now McGahee could trip at that distance and get the touchdown, but Billick calls for a pass by his second-string quarterback. Luckily for them the amazing Todd Heap makes the catch, unluckily for them the referee makes an awful call of offensive pass interference. Nonetheless, another bullshit interference call takes the Ravens back to the Bengal two yard line on their second down and gives them another perfect opportunity to run the ball up the gut and score a touchdown for a tie. What does Billick do? Why, he wastes his second down with a pass and does so again on his third with a pass that is intercepted, that's what he does. Game over.
Today a lot of people will blaming the refs or Steve McNair or Kyle Boller for that loss, but the blame deserves to go on Brian Billick's shoulders. The Bengals were begging to lose that game and Billick refused them. I suppose you can argue that there was a logic for McNair's pass that was intercepted (I don't think there is, but I'm open-minded), but there was no excuse for the goal line plays. If McGahee ran the ball in at fourth and one there is no interference and the game probably goes to overtime. If McGahee ran the ball in on second or third (or fourth) and two there is no interception and the game probably goes to overtime.
What bothers me so much about Billick's game-calling is the same thing that bugs me so much about small-ball: he went for the low-percentage play when the stakes were the highest. Billick essentially was at the roulette wheel and bet all of his chips on green. I think he's smart enough to know better, but I also think he's arrogant enough to not care. He wants to appear to be some sort of iconoclastic offensive genius and instead just looks like a dope.