- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 20, 2001

OWINGS MILLS, Md. There will be no badmouthing of Elvis Grbac even though it might be deserved.

Baltimore Ravens coach Brian Billick issued a gag order to his team. Under no circumstances are the players to talk publicly about the starting quarterback's troubles.

"This team is not going to engage in any conversation, speculation, and comments on another team member," Billick said. "[The Ravens] are not going to engage in speculation about another player. It serves no purpose whatsoever. This team very much wants to stay together and not point fingers."

Billick's edict was received loud and clear. After yesterday's team meetings, the vast majority of the Ravens slipped out a side exit and didn't return to their lockers.

Grbac threw four interceptions and lost a fumble in Sunday's nightmarish 27-17 home loss to the Cleveland Browns. Ravens punter Kyle Richardson, who has thrown one pass this season for minus-11 yards, has a higher quarterback rating (79.2) than Grbac (69.5), who has 266 attempts.

Billick is adamant that his players have full confidence in their $30 million signal caller. It sure didn't sound that way after Sunday's embarrassing loss.

"He was brought here to do a job and the job is not getting done," tight end Shannon Sharpe said. "Elvis has to be the guy who pulls the trigger. The organization spent a lot of money on him. Right now, I'm very disappointed in the offense's performance. Brian feels this is the guy we've got to ride with, so we're going to ride with him. The fans are going to be disappointed because they were calling for [backup] Randall [Cunningham]. This is the guy Brian wants. We look at the film and we'll see. Brian is going to do what's best for the team."

Meanwhile, star defensive end Michael McCrary underwent arthroscopic knee surgery yesterday and may be lost for the season. McCrary, who is having a Pro Bowl season with 7.5 sacks for 42.5 yards in losses, will be replaced by linebacker Peter Boulware on passing situations and defensive tackle Kelly Gregg on running downs.

"We will determine tomorrow whether this will be a two, three, or four-week deal, or could finish the season," Billick said of McCrary's surgery.

The Ravens defense is the least of Billick's problems. Since his arrival three seasons ago, Billick has displayed a quick trigger when it comes to the Ravens' starting quarterback. Billick's first season in 1999, he benched Scott Mitchell after 61/2 quarters of bad football for Stoney Case, who lasted a mere four games, before he turned to Tony Banks to finish the last 10 games of an 8-8 season.

Last season when the Ravens failed to score a touchdown in October a span of five games Billick benched Banks and went with Trent Dilfer, who went 11-1 and helped lead the Ravens to victory in Super Bowl XXXV.

This offseason, Dilfer became expendable when the Ravens (6-4) inked Grbac to a five-year deal. So, why is Billick so hesitant to yank Grbac? After Grbac threw his fourth interception in the end zone on Sunday, television cameras captured a tear trickling down Grbac's cheek on the Ravens bench.

What kind of message does that send to Grbac's brash and cocky teammates? Beginning in Sunday's second quarter, Ravens fans were calling for Cunningham, who is 2-0 as the Ravens starter.

"His teammates have faith in his abilities and that is going to carry us through the second half of the season," Billick said. "[Sharpe] never questioned Elvis, you need to talk to Shannon about that. Elvis Grbac has no stronger support on this team than Shannon Sharpe."

Grbac has thrown 13 interceptions to nine touchdowns this season and is 4-4 as the starter. Turnovers are directly to blame for all four of the Ravens' losses. Opponents have scored 73 points this season off Ravens turnovers and Grbac is responsible for 17 (13 interceptions and four fumbles) of the Ravens' 25 turnovers.

Because opponents are able to capitalize off of Ravens turnovers on short fields, their proud defense won't be setting any scoring records this season. Last season, the Ravens set the NFL record for allowing the fewest points (165) in a 16-game schedule. After 10 games this season, the Ravens have allowed 166 points with six games to play and Grbac is as accommodating as a concierge.

"There is a real strong compelling notion that says, 'wait a minute, we changed [quarterbacks] last year and went to the Super Bowl, so let's change this year, that's the way to fix this thing,'" Billick said. "This year it is not."


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