- The Washington Times - Monday, October 30, 2000

STEELERS 9, RAVENS 6

BALTIMORE Even though Trent Dilfer's initials are TD, that didn't help the Baltimore Ravens find the end zone.

The Ravens have not scored a touchdown in five straight games. That translates into one month, or 20 quarters, or 58 possessions for 306 minutes and 39 seconds of touchdown-less football.

For the Ravens, it's an Octoberfest without beer. The divisive situation inside the Ravens locker room is tense and seems ready to explode.

The Ravens' AFC-leading defense has allowed only four touchdowns in the last six games and is getting tired of watching the offense toil ineptly.

"If the offense doesn't score, we can't let them score," Ravens safety Rod Woodson said. "I guess we can't give up any touchdowns."

It happened again yesterday.

A third-quarter 45-yard pass from Kordell Stewart to Hines Ward was all the Pittsburgh Steelers needed to beat the Ravens 9-6 yesterday for their fifth straight win before 69,405 at PSINet Stadium.

The loss was the third straight for the Ravens (5-4). Second-year coach Brian Billick, the former Minnesota Vikings offensive coordinator whose scheme enabled the Vikings to score 556 points in 1998, is getting tired of answering questions about the Ravens offense and his ability to devise a game plan.

"You can't question the system," Billick said. "Anybody who wants to intimate or think, and I'm sure they will, that all of a sudden now I don't know what I'm doing and that 25 years is a sham and I faked my way to this point, you can have at it," Billick said in his postgame news conference. "But I've been through it enough and have learned enough through life's experiences, you don't bail out on the system. You look at it, you analyze it and decide what you have to do to work well within it. You don't dump it and start running the wishbone."

Why not?

The Ravens mustered only 274 total yards. The Ravens converted just 3 of 11 third downs (27 percent) and used two Matt Stover field goals of 51 and 49 yards for all of their scoring.

Dilfer, who replaced incumbent starting quarterback Tony Banks for this game, was mediocre.

On the Ravens first possession, Dilfer fumbled away a snap at the Steelers 9. In the third quarter, with the game tied 6-6, Dilfer was intercepted in the end zone by Steelers cornerback Dewayne Washington. Dilfer was an unspectacular 11 of 24 for 152 yards and one interception.

If the Ravens, who started the season 5-1, have one more touchdown-less quarter they will tie the 1991 Indianapolis Colts (21 straight quarters without a TD) for the most anemic offense in the NFL's modern era.

"I didn't make any plays that could change the game around," Dilfer said. "Losing is ridiculous under these circumstances. It has to start with me. It's the nature of the business. You got to make plays when presented and I didn't make them."

The only plus for the Ravens offense was the play of rookie running back Jamal Lewis. Lewis gained 146 of the Ravens 274 yards 93 rushing and 53 receiving.

Ravens cornerback Duane Starks was burned by Ward and ultimately it cost Baltimore the game. On first down at the Ravens 45, Stewart lobbed a spiral to Ward streaking down the right sideline.

Ward outjumped Starks at the 15 at wrestled the ball away from the Ravens third-year corner for the game's only touchdown. Steelers kicker Kris Brown missed the extra point and the game was tied 6-6. Brown added a 24-yard third-quarter field goal for the winning 9-6 margin.

A controversial fourth-quarter decision by Billick may have prevented the Ravens from tying or possibly winning the game. The Ravens were faced with a fourth-and-6 at the Steelers 33-yard line and trailing 9-6.

Billick opted to punt rather than try a 50-yard field goal or go for a first down with nearly eight minutes left. Stover had connected twice from long range earlier in the game.

"Matt felt it was outside his range," Billick said.

After starting the season strong, the Ravens seem to be playing themselves out of a playoff spot.

"I'm at a loss for words and I never have a loss for words when it comes to explaining what's going on with our offense," Ravens tight end Shannon Sharpe said. "When is it going to stop? The wild card [playoff spot] should be the least of our worries right now. How about getting the ball in the end zone? How about stop turning the football over? How about stop making mistakes? Let's not sugarcoat it or try to fool anybody, we're not a very good football team on offense."

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