Nick, North East: I guess we can look forward to a nice Boller-bashing article from you, huh? Nothing to write about for two weeks now you must be ready to let it rip. Hope you at least recognize his good play the last two weeks since your articles have been missing when he was playing good, and that you recognize how horrible the offensive line played and how many passes the receivers dropped.
Mike Preston: Ah, Nick, Nick, stop your whining. I know how you feel. Now imagine how Brian Billick has felt the last three seasons. You got your pom poms out after the last two games, and started telling everybody that "I told you, I told you, Kyle was the real deal. He just needed some time." And now, you're all depressed because it blew up in your face again and again and again. To be a Boller fan, you have to be a masochist. You like to be tormented and teased because he takes you to the edge, and then BOOM, pulls you back. Ain't that right, Nick? I bet your sitting on the couch with him right now.
Stop making excuses for Boller. Everything has to be perfect for Boller to succeed. No rain, no fog, great pass protection, no dropped passes. Even in the two games he performed well, Mark Clayton and Derrick Mason had to bail him out with catches on passes thrown too high and too hard. He's inaccurate. Let's repeat that: Boller is INACCURATE. The quarterback from Cleveland was under a lot of pressure Sunday. He was getting smacked around. His receivers dropped passes. Guess what? He got it together, stepped up his game and made plays. The Browns won because a rookie was better than Boller, who completed his third season. That fourth quarter pass to Mason down the right sideline, the one that should have been a game-winning touchdown, was an absolute embarrassment. Boller never gave Mason a chance to make a play because it was thrown 10 to 15 yards out of bounds. Hell, he overthrew Jamal Lewis on a five yard pass over the middle on his first pass attempt in the game.
I know Nick, keep waiting, right? Guess what, again? I'll wait for an inheritance, I'll wait for the right woman, I'll wait for the right car but I'm not going to wait for Boller any longer. Get a clue Nick. Billick doesn't want to wait any longer either, which is why he hasn't endorsed Boller as the starter next season. While we have been waiting for Boller, Ray Lewis has gone into isolation, Peter Boulware and Jonathan Ogden have declined, Jamal Lewis doesn't want to play in Baltimore and Chris McAlister has moved from outer space into the next galaxy. The window of opportunity for winning a Super Bowl has closed while we waited for Boller to develop.
And then you have the audacity to suggest I have not written a game column in the past two weeks because Boller has played well. Ah, humbug. The two previous games were on deadline, night games. I had to do the report card Nick (notice Boller got an A+ and B+). There wasn't time to write a column and a report card. So next time, before you challenge my integrity, get the facts right.
One more thing Nick: Have a healthy and happy new year.
Chris, Glen Burnie: I knew it was too good to be true. There was no chance that Kyle Boller could have three good games in a row and the Ravens win three in a row. Does Kyle's performance against the Browns hurt his future more than the past two games helped it?
Mike Preston: If he had played three good games in a row, there would have been a parade downtown. There would have been Boller sightings all over Maryland. His psychologists would be opening more offices in Baltimore because he would be hotter than Dr. Phil. If he had played well against the Browns, more people like Nick would have been coming out of the closet holding rallies in other AFC North cities.
The Ravens know they can't win consistently with Boller against good teams. They know they have to find a starting quarterback somewhere. Boller has yet to prove he can play well over an extended period of time. It's like being a shooter in basketball. If you shoot 30 times a game, sooner or later you're going to hit a couple, or go on a hot streak. But that doesn't mean you're ready for the NBA. The Ravens will try to find a legitimate starting quarterback during the offseason. If the Ravens had a good starting quarterback this season, they would have won nine games instead of six. Boller is just Boller, nothing more, nothing less.
Steve, Greensboro, N.C.: Presto, now that we know 'Compu Coach' is coming back, can you give us your opinion of the peripherals (assistants) and who should stay or go?
Mike Preston: I think running backs coach Matt Simon, who is excellent, will leave because the Ravens have not given him a shot at being the offensive coordinator even though it is deserved. The Ravens will take a hard look a receivers coach David Shaw because he has failed to develop any young receivers except Clayton, who was the team's No. 1 draft pick last April. Secondary coach Johnnie Lynn and special teams' coach Gary Zauner might get fired while offensive coordinator Jim Fassel has a shot at the head coaching job in Minnesota.
Do they all deserve to be fired? No. Shaw and Lynn haven't shown much. There doesn't seem to be a lot of respect from the players for quarterback coach Rick Neuheisel who would become of the offensive coordinator if Fassel leaves. But if you don't fire the head coach, somebody has to be the scapegoat. This will be two years in a row where assistants have become the fall guys.
Fred G., Rockville: Does Billick have brainlock when it comes to motivating this team to play on the road? Once again, penalties, interceptions, poor play calling! Maybe Billick needs a sports psychologist?
Mike Preston: That's funny. Billick and Boller on the same couch. Actually, Sunday's performance just isn't for the road. The Ravens have brought the traveling act home a couple of times this season. Billick and Boller have replaced Barnum and Bailey.
Brian, Herndon, Va.: Nice columns throughout the year. Not what the Kool-Aid drinkers and 'real fans' want to read, but generally on target. After 7 dismal seasons of offensive futility, two straight seasons of underachieving with significantly more talent than most NFL teams, becoming the laughing stock of the league with a complete discipline meltdown in Detroit, 11 straight losses on the road, and a proven inability to match up consistently with the NFL's quality teams over the prior two seasons, what, in your opinion, was owner Steve B. thinking with his retention of Billick? What silver linings can Ravens fans, both 'real' and skeptical, take into next season? I've had season tickets for all 10 years, but can't see reupping after the last two seasons. Give me some hope. Thanks.
Mike Preston: Actually, Brian, there is hope. A couple of weeks ago I wrote that Billick should be fired based on numerous things. Yet no one in the front office ever publicly acknowledged any problems. Over the last year and a half, I have written about the chemistry and locker room problems, and how Billick had lost control of the team. There have been numerous suggestions about doing away with this offensive system, finding another quarterback other than Boller and making training camp tougher. Most of the time, there were denials from Billick and the Ravens public relations staff department about any problems. There was always "you have an agenda" against Billick. But now, Billick has admitted that he lost control of this team. Owner Steve Bisciotti and the front office staff have interviewed players and are aware of the problems in the locker room. They held an evaluation of Billick, which means those problems are no longer obscured by newspaper "sources," but are on the table. They are now public records.
Imagine that. Jamal Lewis actually did admit to withholding services.
With all of that said, all of these problems have to be addressed or the Ravens will continue to lose. I still don't know if Billick is the right coach for the job here in Baltimore anymore, but I think he and the Ravens will make a sincere effort to make things better. They're at least thinking ahead, instead of trying to hide the truth through denial. Over the past decade, this has been one of the best franchises in the NFL. They've made mistakes, but their successes far outweigh their failures. That's what I'm counting on during the off season. That's the hope, and it should be yours, too.
LT Carl Johnson, USN, Fort Bragg, N.C.: Mike I love reading your articles. No matter where I am, I try to get to read it. Who do you hear are options for the Ravens to bring in as far as quarterbacks go?
Mike Preston: It's not good right now, but that might change later into the offseason. A lot of teams want Atlanta's Matt Schaub, but it's unlikely the Falcons will part with him under any conditions. It's a two-quarterback league these days, and the Falcons need a safety net with Michael Vick running around. There has been speculation that Steve McNair and Kerry Collins might become available, or the Chargers might be willing to trade Philip Rivers. Whatever the case, the Ravens are going to have to work some magic. If they don't improve the quarterback situation, then they're right back where they started in 2005.
Mark, Richmond, Va.:What are the three biggest changes you expect in the off-season and what will stay the same next year? The team looked better in the latter half of the season. Could the "soft" training camp as well as the new elements of offense (Clayton and Mason) and Kyle's injury in Week 1 be the main reason for the poor 2005?
Mike Preston: The Ravens had success at the end of the season because they played teams like Houston, Minnesota and Green Bay. Coincidentally, all three teams fired their head coaches. That tells you something, huh? I think you'll see subtle changes in Billick, less arrogance and less of a condescending attitude. It won't be directed just to the players, but fellow employees and even the media. I think you will see more discipline. Billick needs to go after veterans, not just pop off on rookies and other young players. Penalties hurt the Ravens this season. All of them can't be traced to a lack of discipline, but a lot of them can. Training camp should be tougher. It doesn't have to be a Marine boot camp, this Camp Cream Puff stuff won't work for this team. The loss to Tennessee in Week 2 showed that the Ravens weren't ready to play. Veterans like Edwin Mulitalo and Orlando Brown weren't in playing condition. That shouldn't happen in the NFL.
I think the offensive coordinator will take more control of the offense. I'm sure Bisciotti is tired of watching this offense and hearing Billick's excuses for failure. I think the owner has put the coach on a short leash, and this season will be his last opportunity. You can only fire so many assistant coaches.
G.J., Va.: It seems to me Chris McAlister has also been an emotional no-show since 2003 - your thoughts? And, do you think Jonathan 0gden truly deserved a Pro Bowl for his 2005 play?
Mike Preston: Chris is one of those veterans who has been around for a while, and tired of Billick's message. It might be time for a change of scenery. Overall, McAlister is a decent guy. He speaks his mind. But he needs a coach to light his fire like Donnie Henderson did when he was here. As I said before, it might be time for a change.
As for J.O., without question he belongs in the Pro Bowl. Is he as good as he was four or fives years ago? No. But he is still one of the five best tackles in the NFL. That tells you how truly great he was, maybe the best ever.
Dave, Bear, Del.: Do you think the Ravens should keep Jamal and if so, designate the franchise tag or give him a multi-year contract?
Mike Preston: It's time for Jamal to move on, too. Since the Ravens kept Billick, it's time to bring in some new players, guys who aren't tired of hearing his message. I understand the Ravens putting the franchise tag on him, and possibly trying to pick up a few draft picks. But if they franchise Lewis, and try to make him play, he might squat on them again in 2006. A lot of players don't like the franchise designation because they don't get that large sum of guaranteed money up front. Jamal has played well for the Ravens. He played a major part in the team winning the Super Bowl. His situation with the Ravens is like a bad marriage. It's like those old Kenny Rogers lyrics: "You got to know when to hold them, know when to fold them, know when to walk away, know when to run." It's time for both sides to walk away. Run, if they have to.
Richard, Baltimore: I can imagine that it was quite hard for you to watch the second half of Sunday's game against Cleveland. Did the performance therefore elude that Billick's "somewhat secure" status as head coach next year may not be enough to motivate him to make the Ravens play like a promising team like they were the last two weeks? Also, the Ravens' pick in the draft looks as if it will fall after the better quarterbacks as well as the top offensive linemen. Do they trade down?
Mike Preston: Let's be honest. The Ravens just weren't that good in 2005. Promising? They beat Green Bay, Houston, Cleveland and Minnesota. They beat Pittsburgh and the Jets who were without starting quarterbacks. The Ravens turned out to be pretenders, not contenders. They played a Cleveland team that was embarrassed at home a week ago, and refused to quit. The Ravens thought the Browns were going to lay down, and it didn't happen. The Ravens should be embarrassed. They got beat by a team that hasn't had a Pro Bowl player on the roster since returning to the league. Meanwhile, the Ravens have about 13 or 14 on their roster. You know Cleveland general manager Phil Savage had to be chuckling at the Ravens. The last game was the basically the season played out in microcosm.
You're right, Texas's Vince Young keeps climbing up the charts and might be out of the Ravens draft range. You know me by now. I'll always take linemen over anybody except that Reggie Bush fellow. He's special. But you're on to something, the Ravens might have to trade down.
OK folks, that's it for the season. Thanks for all your questions and time. I've tried to be honest, but at the same time have some fun with these questions. I appreciated your honesty, sarcasm and wit. It's been a long season for all of us, but remember, it's just a game. It's not life or death. If I made you angry, good. If I made you laugh, good. If I hurt your feelings, you should have turned the page. If you kept coming back, then that's what it's all about. God bless, and hopefully we'll strap it up again for next season. In the parting words of that great master of ceremonies from Soul Train, Don Cornelius, I wish you, ah never mind, bye.