Monday, November 12, 2007

Week 10 - Broken

The saying goes, “If it ain’t broke, don't fix it.” But what if it is broke?

As an official homeowner for 4 full months, I've had to learn to deal with many of these daily dilemmas. Take this past Saturday, my first weekend at home in more than a month. I fixed a towel rack, a vacuum, a smoke detector and a light bulb. Well I guess you don't actually fix a light bulb, you replace it, but I was rather proud of my man-of-the-house accomplishments and technically, the light wasn’t working (i.e broken) and I took care of it (i.e. fixed it). In any case, the ability to deal with such problems leads me to Sunday’s game and what used to be the AFC North Champion Baltimore Ravens.

The team appears to be broken. Not mentally, not yet at least, but for some reason they just don't seem to be working right. Fumbles, false starts and just plain ugly football have left the team winless since mid-October. Brian Billick, in his press conference following the game, admitted that he was frustrated. Probably because he can’t seem to figure out who broke his 13-3 team from 2006. It was working just fine, that is until the clock struck 2007.

It's not the batteries, as Ray Lewis' motor never seems to stop. It's not the parts, as Pro Bowlers fill the roster on both sides of the ball. And as far as I know, no one has been recalled back to the plant, or in this case, the “U”. So what could it be? According to this week's Wired Raven, Gary Stills, "There's a dark cloud hanging over us."

Although Stills can’t be serious, it would explain a lot. Take, for instance, the pre-game flyover. The C-130J cargo-style planes (I know, usually they’re fighter jets, but Navy apparently used up the entire fleet during their 74 point explosion at North Texas) seemed to cautiously creep along from one side of the stadium to the other, as if they were trying to avoid a storm cloud hanging overhead. The pilots may have also been aware that the stage was not solely theirs on Sunday as a live video feed from Iraq was transmitted into the stadium just moments before kickoff. A Maryland Army National Guard unit that call themselves “Task Force Ravens” pre-empted the singing of the national anthem and then introduced the Ravens, with Derrick Mason carrying the American flag as the lead horse leaving the stable. Some of the soldiers on screen gave shout outs to specific sections of the stands before giving one final salute as the slightly less important battle in Baltimore began.

It’s hard to put into words what followed, but a blogger’s got to do what a blogger’s got to do. So here it goes (courtesy of burst, busted, collapsed, cracked, crippled, crumbled, crushed, damaged, defective, demolished, disintegrated, dismembered, fractured, fragmentary, fragmented, hurt, injured, mangled, mutilated, pulverized, rent, riven, ruptured, separated, severed, shattered, shivered, shredded, slivered, smashed, split. Maybe I should have just stuck with ‘broken’, although ‘riven’ is new to my vocabulary and its similarity to the name of our feathered friends could be useful in the future. But back to being broken.

On a third and goal just before halftime, Steve McNair tried to find Todd Heap in the end zone for a go ahead touchdown. Unfortunately the ball was tipped and caught by a Bengal instead. Under similar circumstances, the same thing happened on opening night when Kyle Boller tried to find Heap for a score but was awarded an INT when a Cincinnati defender wound up with a deflected pass. Well, at least we’ve pinpointed the problem. Although the fortuitous bounce did seem to break the spirit of the sold-out crowd and the scant few following the game from the sidelines. (A clear indication of where the Ravens rank in the NFL was that the media presence on the field seemed to be limited to one NFL Films cameraman and the CBS crew covering the game, although they only lasted into the third quarter – see below.)

The team wasn’t the only defective part on the field on Sunday. Apparently unwilling to continue recording sub-standard football, the camera cart that drives along the sidelines broke down near the south end zone in the third quarter. The crew tried to fix it and at one point I actually saw them taking a rubber hammer to the side of the cart. Now I’m still limited to towel racks and light bulbs, but that can’t work, could it? Maybe if there was a dent that they were trying to bang out, but when a vehicle ceases the ability to move, a rubber hammer cannot be the answer. It was unfortunate for the network, because all of the action during the next 15 minutes seemed to take place on the other side of the field.

Four fumbles followed by four field goals without ever crossing the fifty seemed to put the game out of reach. At that point, the crowd began showing signs that they too were shattered, or maybe shivered, perhaps riven? Okay, that was forced, but the hometown fans did begin to boo during the second half. After being on the road for the last two games, we’ve become used to the boo birds, but I didn’t realize they had flown in for the weekend. A cheer did rise up from those still left in the building when Kyle Boller hit Mark Clayton for a 48-yard pass late in the fourth quarter. Thus proving that the way to fix the quarterback, just like a light bulb, is to replace rather than repair. Okay, that’s a bit of a stretch as Kyle added an interception of his own to the six total turnovers, but his near-scoring strike at least seemed to fix the fans for a moment.

After the game came to a close, the press conference was eerily silent as even the microphones at the podium appeared to be, well, broken. Billick’s words to the press were barely audible and none of the Ravens players even made it into the interview room. So where does that leave us? How do we fix this? What do we do now, Trip?! (Meatballs reference for those scrolling back up looking to see who ‘Trip’ was.)

The answer isn’t easy. It’s not as simple as a change of batteries. There are no replacement parts available. Will Ferrell has moved on to basketball season (see below). And I’m pretty sure the rubber hammer won’t work on these guys. All we can do to salvage the season is reboot, regroup and return to the stadium next Sunday for a date with Derek Anderson and the Cleveland Browns. The season is on the line; it's time to get sweaty (again, see below); it’s time to go for broke.

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