- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 12, 2000

OWINGS MILLS, Md. Critics say the Baltimore Ravens have everything but a quarterback.

Not so fast, Ravens coach Brian Billick warned. Even though the Ravens became the first team in 75 years last week to win consecutive games without scoring a touchdown, Billick said it's not quarterback Tony Banks' fault.

Billick said all season he has stressed no turnovers to his fifth-year quarterback. The Banks-led Ravens join the 1923 Chicago Bears and 1925 Detroit Panthers as the only teams in NFL history to win back-to-back games without getting into the end zone.

"Particularly in the games that we have played and the way they have unfolded, it's tough on Tony because 'Tony we want to do this and that, but whatever you do don't throw a pick,' " Billick said. "When you put those kind of parameters on a player, it's tough. He has had a bit of a governor on him. The key is that when we do need to open up he needs to make those throws. Maybe we put him in too much of a be-careful-with-the-ball mode to let him be effective."

The Ravens were forced to be careful with Banks. Until this year, Banks had been a notorious fumbler (57 coming into this season). In a 13-10 loss last season to the Buffalo Bills, Banks committed consecutive turnovers (interception and fumble) in the fourth quarter and both led to Buffalo scores. A Banks fumble in Ravens territory gave the Bills the game-winning touchdown with 1:36 left.

Billick wants the Ravens' offense to be more explosive, especially in the vertical passing department. The Ravens have gone vertical only once this season, in Week 2 of their thrilling come-from-behind 39-36 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars. Yet, Billick is not going to single out Banks for the Ravens' offensive woes.

"I'm not trying to be overly protective here. Obviously there are a number of things we have to do better, but I think everybody is a little too myopic on one thing and that one thing being Tony Banks," Billick said. "All of a sudden a dropped flat pass by a running back, a dropped 40-yard bomb by the wide receiver, a mistake by the tight end on a protection scheme, a rookie not playing the screen pass just right and bailing out too soon, and that's all Tony Banks' fault."

Banks knows he is still a labeled man despite the Ravens' excellent 5-1 start and Billick's vote of confidence. Last season, the 6-foot-4, 230-pound Banks opened the season as the Ravens third-string quarterback behind Scott Mitchell and Stoney Case.

This Sunday against the Redskins, the Ravens will most likely be without center Jeff Mitchell (sprained ankle) and are expected to use right guard Mike Flynn at center. Yesterday, Banks reminded everyone where he came from.

"If you recall, I was the second and third guy last year, so I was able to work with Mike," Banks said.

Banks, 26, considers himself still a work in progress. Banks didn't really take football seriously until his junior year in high school because he was playing baseball and basketball at Hoover High School in San Diego.

Banks signed a letter-of-intent to play football at Utah State, but elected to play baseball in the Minnesota Twins organization after high school. He played right field for the Twins' Class A Fort Myers (Fla.) affiliate.

After a standout two-year career at Mesa Community College (1992-93) in San Diego, Banks transferred to Michigan State, where he became one of the best quarterbacks in Spartans' history with 4,129 yards passing, 301 completions and a 60.7 completion percentage.

Drafted by the St. Louis Rams in the second round (42nd overall) of the 1996 NFL Draft, Banks quickly became expendable after the 1998 season when he threw 14 interceptions to just seven touchdowns. The Rams traded Banks to the Ravens for two draft picks a fifth-round choice in the 1999 draft and a seventh-round choice in last April's draft.

With a respectable 75.0 quarterback rating this season and eight touchdowns to four interceptions, Banks has the Ravens winning without posting big numbers and without the offense scoring any touchdowns the last two games.

"It is frustrating, but the thing that makes it easier to deal with is that we are 2-0 in those games and haven't scored a touchdown," said Banks, who has completed 115 of 212 passes for 1,169 yards so far this season. "I don't think any of us are accustomed to that, but we are 5-1."

And the Ravens will take it. After last season's distressing loss to the Bills, Billick said Banks has been a habitual fumbler. Nowadays, Billick is touting Banks' 11-5 record over the past two seasons and Banks' interception ratio (25 TDs to 12 interceptions) over the same time span, and believes he should trust his quarterback more.

However, Billick said he will take wins any way he can get them, regardless of what his quarterback does or doesn't do.

"Statistics be damned, I don't care where we are rated offensively, if we go 15-1 and this is the profile, you would take it in a minute," Billick said.

Note Ravens kicker Matt Stover was named AFC special teams player of the week for his five field goals in the Ravens 15-10 win at Jacksonville. Stover's five field goals (47, 32, 43, 21 and 24 yards) tied his career high. This is the fourth time in his career Stover has won special teams player of the week. Stover is the fourth Ravens player to win player of the week honors.

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