The History of Baltimore Ravens Quarterbacks, Pt. 1: The Early Days, Brian Billick, and The Kyle Boller Experiment (1996–2007)
What originally started as a retrospective on Joe Flacco became much more. The idea is that we want to look at the career of Joe Flacco not just relative to his own era, but also relative to the history of his franchise.
To that effect, what follows is a history of quarterback play for the Baltimore Ravens from 1996–2007, covering the beginnings of the franchise, the era of Ted Marchibroda and War Memorial Stadium up through the end of the tenure of Super Bowl winning head coach Brian Billick and the end of what I call “The Kyle Boller Experiment.”
YE OLDENE TYMES (1996–2002)
Until 2008, the Ravens never had a franchise QB, which is an astonishingly long time. Even the Baltimore Colts had Bert Jones after Unitas.
The Ravens were born in 1996 as a reincarnation of the existing Cleveland Browns, as the Browns moved from Cleveland to Baltimore, and brought much of their front office staff and player talent with them, among them starting quarterback Vinny Testaverde. Testaverde played a statistically impressive season in the Ravens debut season, putting up over 4000 yards and 33 touchdowns, second in both categories, against an acceptable 19 interceptions, ironically leading the Ravens to one of the league’s best offenses while being saddled with a terrible defense.
The Ravens were impressed enough to sign Testaverde to a four-year extension, but a severe decline in the quality of his play (less than 3000 yards, less than 20 touchdowns) plus an injury leading to two wins by backup Eric Zeier ended his run early, and the Ravens released him. While not a particularly loyal move by the franchise, Testaverde had already been in the league ten years and had pretty much already gained a reputation as a draft bust, having never lived up to his perceived potential as the #1 overall pick in 1987, with his 1996 performance being an anomaly in a contract year.
To start 1998, the Ravens traded draft picks to, of all teams, the Indianapolis Colts to gain, of all people, Jim Harbaugh, younger brother of stalwart Ravens head coach John Harbaugh (2008-present), and the man who would later coach a Super Bowl against the Ravens as the 49ers head coach in the “Harbaugh Bowl.” His most notable accomplishment as a Raven was leading the Ravens to victory over the visiting Colts, the Colts first visit to Baltimore since leaving the city in 1983, after which Jim Harbaugh presented the game ball to Johnny Unitas. Other than that? He was terrible. He finished the season with less than 2000 yards, 12 touchdowns, and 11 interceptions, an unfathomably bad statline.
In 1999, a change in coaching regime from Ted Marchibroda to Brian Billick also lead to a new starting quarterback: Tony Banks. In his first season in Baltimore, things looked somewhat promising for Banks who put up a respectable 17 TDs and 8 INT, but his progression stalled, leading to his replacement in the middle of the 2000 season by Trent Dilfer. The 2000 Ravens defense was so legendarily good that they carried Dilfer, also a terrible quarterback, to a Super Bowl victory, a game where Dilfer played so terribly that, in a move still somewhat shocking, the team cut him after the victory. I’m only choosing to pass over this glorious moment in Ravens history because quarterback play had so very little to do with it. (Fun fact: Dilfer’s passer rating for the 2000 postseason was better than Tom Brady’s 2000 and 2003 Super Bowl runs, just thought I’d mention that.)
And so 2001 brought us a QB with one of my favorite football names ever: Elvis Grbac. Depending on how you look at it, Grbac may have been the Ravens worst QB yet. He put up over 3000 yards in 2001, but he put up an abysmal 15TD-18INT. The Ravens were able to return to the playoffs, with the defense dominating the Miami Dolphins in the wild card, but lost in the divisional round to the Steelers. Grbac had a solid game against Miami, but was not brought back.
Thus, in 2002: Jeff Blake. 2084 yards, 13 touchdowns, 11 interceptions. Can we please get a QB who’s good at something? At this point you start to wonder what fucking time machine they’re getting these QBs from, because these are statlines from the early 50’s. You also start to wonder why in the hell they haven’t tried drafting and developing a rookie, because in 7 seasons they’ve started six different quarterbacks for a significant amount of games, all of whom already had many years of playing under their belt that would seem to indicate that they were not starting caliber QBs. Let’s take a look at that, shall we?
Ravens QB Drafting History Before 2003
As it turns out, from 1996 to 2002, the Ravens spent only four picks on quarterbacks, however upon review of the drafts from those years, they were incredibly light on QB talent and the Ravens more or less did the best they could with the talent available at the picks they were selecting.
The Ravens 1996 draft is basically unassailable. In the first round they drafted left tackle John Ogden and middle linebacker Ray Lewis in the first round, both positions being cornerstones of great teams and both of those players making the Hall of Fame. They did draft a QB in the 7th round, Jon Stark, but Stark is so not-notable that he doesn’t even have a Pro-Football Reference page, meaning that he must’ve played zero snaps in the NFL.
In today’s QB-centric mindset this might seem absurd, but here’s the thing: not one quarterback was selected in the first round of that draft, and none of the other qbs selected became notable starters either. The most notable QB selected, ironically, was St. Louis pick of Tony Banks in the second round, the man who would later become, as stated, the starter for the 1999 and 2000 season who was replaced mid-2000 by Trent Dilfer.
This theme of a QB drought seems to persist for many years. In 1997 the first QB selected was Jim Druckenmiller by the 49ers, and he only lasted a year in pro football. 1998 of course brought us Peyton Manning as the first pick by the Colts, a pick they were never going to trade, and the Ravens dodged a bullet by not moving up to draft Ryan Leaf, though I was not able to find that the Ravens had any interest. Further down the draft, the only other really notable pick was Green Bay’s selection of eventual Seahawks Super Bowl starter Matt Hasselbeck, but Hasselbeck himself was certainly not a known prospect, and he wouldn’t show any significant skill until years after he was drafted, still only peaking at a level slightly above that of say, a Trent Dilfer.
It wasn’t until 1999 that the Ravens arguably whiffed on a great potential quarterback, and even then, it’s hard to criticize the pick they made instead. With the 10th selection in the draft, the Ravens picked cornerback Chris McAlister, allowing QB Daunte Culpepper to fall to the Vikings in the next pick. Culpepper was a franchise-caliber QB for the Vikings for many years, but the Ravens almost certainly made the better pick by taking someone who would make key contributions to the 2000 defense that won the Super Bowl, including a key interception in that Super Bowl. McAlister was eventually selected to the Pro-Bowl three times, and even had a First-Team All-Pro selection. Culpepper also went to three pro-bowls, and in two separate seasons lead the league in yards and touchdowns respectively, but he did not have a strong enough career that one can easily say the Ravens should’ve taken him instead to fill their hole at quarterback. Their other option would’ve been to possibly package their other picks, which included future two-time Super Bowl wide receiver Brandon Stokely (he caught a touchdown pass in the 2000 Super Bowl) and starting guard Edwin Mulitalo to possibly move up and pick future Eagles starter Donovan McNabb at #2. I can’t say this would’ve been a great move either, given that three of the four players the Ravens drafted were starters in the 2000 Super Bowl, and that McNabb was never capable of winning a Super Bowl even with the support of all-time wide-receiver Terrell Owens.
Once again, in 2000, not only was there a lack of truly significant QB talent, but the Ravens also made a historic pick when they grabbed runningback Jamal Lewis at 5th. The only truly viable option at quarterback would’ve been to move down or overdraft for future Jets QB Chad Pennington. Once again, though Pennington had flashes of quality play, Jamal Lewis carried the Ravens offense on his back in the 2000 season and is still probably the greatest rusher in the Ravens franchise history, putting up almost 340 yards and 4 touchdowns in the 2000 postseason, and eventually putting up one of the few 2000-yard rushing seasons in NFL history in 2003. The Ravens made the right choice.
Did The Ravens Whiff By Not Picking Drew Brees in 2001?
But now it’s 2001 and the Ravens still don’t have a QB. Especially bad when they had quality talent at WR with Quadry Ismail and had traded for future-HOF tight-end Shannon Sharpe. But really, being a team good enough to win the Super Bowl essentially killed the Ravens chances of being able to draft a great QB. They missed out on Michael Vick at #1, but they never had any chance of acquiring that pick, realistically. Though the 2001 draft did not produce as much quality talent for the Ravens as the 2000 draft, they did draft beloved franchise tight-end Todd “HEEEEEAAAP” Heap.
Only problem: in the very next pick, the first of the second round, the San Diego Chargers picked Drew Brees. This, however, is also difficult to critique, as though Brees in retrospect was a phenomenal player, Super Bowl champion, and a first-ballot Hall of Famer, arguably one of the top 10 QBs to ever play the game, his worth as a pro-caliber player would not be proven until at least 2004, and we wouldn’t understand what he truly became until he was traded to New Orleans, at which point he was already viewed by some as a bust.
Counterpoint though: the major knock on Brees was a lack of stature and arm talent. This is the sort of conventional wisdom that only recently is beginning to lose favor in the NFL, but it’s also something that head coach Brian Billick maybe should’ve been able to see through. Brees was only two inches shorter than Joe Montana and Steve Young. Both of them played, of course, under Bill Walsh in the San Francisco 49ers legendary West Coast Offense. Billick was a member of the Walsh coaching tree, to such a degree that Billick was the co-author of Walsh’s 1998 book Finding The Winning Edge, a book about every element of football coaching that was described by Andy Reid as “scripture,” and that’s just one testimony from a Super Bowl winning coach.
Bill Walsh’s famous “West Coast Offense” was created to make a passing system executable by a QB without significant arm strength or downfield accuracy. It was during this time that Billick was the offensive coordinator of a record setting 90’s Minnesota Vikings offense, and I only bring this up to say that I don’t know what system they used, but it suffices to say that Billick understood the west coast offense, and he likely could’ve put two and two together and made it work for Drew Brees, who is indisputably the greatest medium and short-range thrower in the history of the NFL. To that, one might respond that we would’ve missed out on Todd Heap, which I think is silly enough on its face when you consider what Drew Brees became, but one should remember that in 2001 Shannon Sharpe played his best year for the Ravens at TE, and he likely would’ve continued to excel had he stayed in Baltimore instead of going back to the Broncos to make room for Heap. In 2002, Sharpe would set a record for receiving yards by a tight-end in a single game, a record that still stands today even after the age of Gronk and during the age of Kelce.
Still, all of this, at least for me, is more an annoyance and less a genuine critique. The difference between 6’0 Brees and 6’2 Montana/Young is not insignificant, and while the west coast offense de-emphasizes arm strength, is is still plenty reliant on the other classic QB attributes, mainly the stature of the quarterback and their ability to use that stature as a means to make quick reads as a means of getting quick releases.
I apologize for that aside.
Then there was the 2002 draft. This one once again escapes all criticism. The QBs available were not good. The best ones taken were Josh McCown and David Garrard. The Ravens did not take a QB. They took Ed Reed. I do not have anywhere near enough space to begin explaining how good Ed Reed is. His introduction to the Ravens defense, along with Terrell Suggs the next year, kept the flame going from the 2000-era squad for many, many years. Reed ended his career as the greatest free safety in NFL history and was a no-brainer to make the Hall of Fame, and has two of the longest, if not the longest interception returns for touchdowns in NFL history, both from his own endzone. Still, as a result, the Ravens still had not drafted and developed a franchise QB, nor had they found one in free agency.
Final Analysis: 1996–2002
The Ted Marchibroda regime for the Baltimore Ravens were a period of growing pains as the team reintroduced pro football to Baltimore, MD after thirteen years without their beloved Colts. They played their first two seasons in the old War Memorial stadium, but had always planned to move to their new stadium next to the Orioles home park, Camden Yards, now known as M&T Bank Stadium. They were a mishmash of players from the Browns relocation, free agent journeymen quarterbacks, and exciting young players gotten in the draft. Marchibroda was himself an element of the old Colts identity, but with three straight losing seasons, the team saw fit to move on as they were fated to from the Colts old stadium.
The Ravens legendary defense, Hall of Fame caliber offensive line play, and solid offensive skill players at runningback, tight end, and wide receiver made the Ravens a contender at the beginning of Brian Billick’s tenure as head coach, including a miracle Super Bowl run in 2000, likely the last time in NFL history that a truly subpar offense will be carried to championship victory by a great defense, and what a defense it was. But after that, in 2001 they lost in the divisional round, in 2002 went 7–9 and missed the playoffs. It had become clear that the defense would not be able to build a dynasty on their own, with sadly the only glaring weakness on offense sadly being a weakness at the most important position in the sport: quarterback.
And so we land, finally, in 2003. The Ravens retained much of the greatness of their 2000 defense, bolstered by Ed Reed. They also had theoretically great talent at the key offensive skill positions: Jamal Lewis was one of the few RBs in history to have a 2000-yard rushing season and was still a fine ball carrier, Travis Taylor was a respectable wide receiver who had gotten nearly 900 yards in 2002 and might’ve developed with proper support at QB, and Todd Heap, one of the men who helped me fall in love with pro football, was a walking 600 yards a season, still one of the most impressive players I have ever seen to achieve individually with no real support from a passer. To be contenders, all these men needed was a quarterback to lead them. With no strong QB available near the top of the draft that the Ravens missed (unless you really like Byron Leftwich,) the Ravens spent their first pick on Terrell Suggs, AKA “Bonesaw” AKA “T-Sizzle” AKA The founder of Ball So Hard University. This is another unassailable pick, as his presence along with Ed Reed extended the lifespan of the vaunted “Ravens Defense” that really still exists to this day because of wise drafting decisions by the team. The Ravens’ second pick?
WELCOME TO THE KYLE BOLLER EXPERIMENT (2003–2005, 2007)
Kyle Boller had a great arm and not much else. Why he failed is of no real interest to me, but what interests me is the depths of his failure, and the rock-bottom that it brought to the Billick era of Ravens history.
There really isn’t anything interesting to say about Boller except that he sucked, and him sucking was unacceptable. A pro football team needs a good quarterback, and the Ravens were now approaching ten years of bad quarterback play.
Boller’s first problem was availability. Before finally losing the starting job to Joe Flacco permanently in 2008, Boller only played one fully healthy season. 2003 was not one of them. Boller’s run in pro football was plagued with injury, and I still feel sympathy for his career as a result. But it was clear almost immediately that in finally attempting to draft a franchise QB out of desperate need that the Ravens had made a mistake in choosing somebody whose lack of availability was not at all outstripped by what he left on the field.
Of the seven games he played, Boller threw more touchdowns than interceptions (he rushed for 0 TD) in only one of them, a game Baltimore lost at Cincinnati, also the only game he threw for over 200 yards. (It was actually over 300.) As a result, he threw for 7TD-9INT that season. His completion percentage was abysmal, finishing the season just under 52% with many games in the 40’s, which is coincidentally the last decade you could possibly get away with that. Though it’s unfair to compare Boller’s volume stats to other QBs who played full season, his percentages and per-pass stats speak for themselves: his completion rate was 31st in the league, TD% 28th, and he finished 30th or worse in every version of the yards-per-attempt stat. (Yards Per Attempt, Adjusted Yards Per Attempt, Net Yards Per Attempt, Adjusted Net Yards Per Attempt.)
Still, though Anthony Wright’s play in the half of the season that Boller missed was not significantly better, it was good enough to get the Ravens an additional five wins to add to Boller’s five to go 10–6 and return to the playoffs, but with the team in this state they never really had a chance. The Titans won the rubber match of the Ravens first great rivalry in the Wild Card that year, 10–7 in a game where both passing offenses were fairly inept, but the Titans outran and outscored the Ravens on the ground to make the difference.
2004 was Boller’s only fully healthy season, and his best as a Raven, but that does not mean he was good. His completion rate for the season improved to 55.6%, and his touchdown-int improved to 13–11, but the starting point had been so low for Boller that in truth he only elevated to the level of a backup anywhere else in the league. He finished with 2600 yards, well short of a winning volume of passing yardage. Wait, with less than 3000 yards he must not’ve thrown very many attempts? Nope. He threw the 14th most attempts and finished thirtieth of 33 qualified QBs in completion rate, 23rd in yards, 25th in touchdown passes, 30th in TD%, once again 30th or worse in all YPA categories, but don’t worry, he was top ten in something: interceptions per pass attempt. He. Was. Horrid. It was apparent that by the end of 2004 that not only was Boller overdrafted, that he was a bust, but that he was without question one of the worst quarterbacks in pro football.
The Ravens fell to 9–7 and missed the playoffs.
This year presents my favorite statistic about the Kyle Boller years, especially since in 2004 Boller had a full season to play and prove himself. In modern times, the Ravens receiver core is somewhat infamous, as we only sporadically have wide receivers gain over 1000 yards, with the last time it happened being back in 2016, an anomaly in the modern NFL and not exactly a flattering one. However, early in Ravens history, even with mediocre support at QB, we’d had multiple receivers, Michael Jackson, Derrick Alexander, and Quadry Ismail, pass the 1000-yard mark with their best support at QB being Vinny Testaverde in the mid-90’s.
In the first two years under Boller, no Raven had a 1000-yard receiving season. Travis Taylor had had well over 800 yards in 2002, but when Boller took the starting job in 03 Taylor’s stats took a complete nosedive and he was traded after the 2004 season. In 2003, when, mind you, Boller missed a significant amount of time, the Ravens had no receiver exceed 700 yards. In his 2004, his only full season as a starter, no Ravens receiver even reached 500 yards of offense catching the ball. Todd Heap was especially done dirty by Boller. In 2002 he had averaged 52.3 yards per game, but in the four years with Boller as the primary starter, he averaged only 46.8 yards per game.
In 2005, the Ravens, desperately in need at the position, acquired Derrick Mason at WR, and he would become a solid contributor to the team for years to come, ending the drought of 1000-yard receiving seasons in the Ravens receiver corps. Trading for him is proof that the Ravens were at least trying to build around Boller, and that Boller did not fail due to lack of team support, quite the opposite given that he played behind Hall of Fame offensive linemen. He likely contributed to Boller’s completion rate improving to 58.4%, ranked 23rd among qualified QBs, so that’s nice. Unfortunately he had another season hindered by injury, and his TD-INT slipped to 11–12. His interception rate was 4.1%, second only to all-time interception king Brett Favre. Don’t worry though, this time he was only 29th or worst in all yards-per-attempt categories.
The Ravens fell to 6–10, their worst record since 1998.
2006: Welcome to The Steve McNair Experiment
By 2006, it was clear that the Kyle Boller experiment was failing, so the front office figured, fuck it, why not, let’s try Titans quarterback Steve McNair. Even as a young fan who barely understood the game, this move excited me. For one, I’d seen enough of Boller to know he was terrible. But the Ravens were also, as always, a run-first team, and McNair, though a capable thrower, was also noted for his own rushing ability, though that capability had long since diminished. It certainly didn’t hurt that McNair had quarterbacked another expansion franchise, the Tennessee Titans, to their first Super Bowl in 1999, one of the greater games in league history where they Titans famously came up One Yard Short.
In the regular season, the move was a massive success, and McNair, though never one of the league’s elite passers, was a significantly more capable quarterback than Boller, throwing a modest TD-INT of 16–13, but putting up more than 3000 yards in a season where he was healthy all the way through, well, except for the part of a Cleveland game where Kyle Boller was in. (Boller actually played ok in the portion of the game he played, 2TD-1INT, I think Shannon had just wanted to do this bit for a while, and I can’t blame him.) McNair threw a completion rate of 63%, a massive improvement from Boller, and was respectably within at least the top 2/3rds of starting QBs in most categories, and it would be impossible to deny that the extra production, along with a stellar year from the defense where they lead the league in fewest yards and points allowed, a return to 2000 form, helped the Ravens to their strongest regular season in the Brian Billick era, 13–3, which actually stood as the Ravens best regular season record for over a decade, and returned to the playoffs skipping the Wild Card round altogether.
Unfortunately, much like the 2020 season when that regular season winning record was broken, the season ended in a heartbreaking playoff loss in the divisional round against the Indianapolis Colts. Peyton Manning as a Colt and a Bronco has a 9–2 record against the Ravens overall, but this was likely his least impressive win against them. In what I would call maybe the most impressive loss in Ravens history, one of the games that made me truly dedicated to the team as a fan as young kid, the Ravens defense contained a white-hot, laser-accurate Peyton Manning to 0 touchdowns and two picks, a defensive performance for the ages where Ray Lewis, Ed Reed and company absolutely refused to give up anything to the end zone. Manning was, as usual by this point, the best quarterback in the regular season, though he was still living with a reputation as a playoff choker. Still, he did his part in driving his team down the field along with a modest rushing offense, converting third downs and avoiding penalties so that all-time great placekicker Adam Vinatieri could kick five field goals in five attempts, including makes of 42, 48, and 52 yards. When the Ravens were in range, their kicker Matt Stover, also one of the greatest ever, was impressive as well, with two makes in two attempts from 40 and 51, but the Ravens also had a similar lack of success finding the endzone, and more importantly in a deadlocked matchup like this they suffered significantly more penalty yardage against them than the Colts and converted third downs at about half the rate the Colts did. The Colts survived 15–6 and would go on to win the Super Bowl. Even more heartbreaking is that as a passer, McNair actually outplayed Manning in this game. Both threw two interceptions, but McNair converted 62% of his pass attempts to Manning’s 50%, but it just didn’t matter in the end, especially when fans knew going in that the 13–3 record was something of a mirage and that the Ravens had no real chance of actually making or winning the Super Bowl given that even if they beat Peyton Manning’s Colts, they’d still have to beat Tom Brady’s Patriots, or maybe even . . . Phillip Rivers’ San Diego Chargers? Huh, ok. Still, the regular season had been good enough that it had to be worth it to run it back with McNair.
2007: Kyle Boller — The Final Chapter
Steve McNair’s career came to an end due to injuries (not at all prematurely, he’d been in the league well more than a decade), and he would sadly announce his retirement from pro football at the end of the year, and it’s best that we end his portion of our story here, as McNair’s own story came to a sordid end better left undiscussed in this context. It suffices to say that, to Baltimore, McNair had been a respected adversary as the original franchise QB of the Tennessee Titans, the Ravens first great rivals in the old AFC Central, before he was traded to Baltimore and left an indelible mark on the 2006 season before his body betrayed him in 2007. He was and remains beloved by the fanbases of both teams.
With McNair’s career over, Kyle Boller, relegated to backup the previous season, stepped back into the starting role. His completion percentage improved once again to 61.9% and in general he improved from being one of the worst QBs in football to being merely mediocre, but these improvements came too late and too little. That said, even if Boller had been much, much better, it likely would not have been enough.
Play at RB and WR remained solid even as franchise back Jamal Lewis was traded and replaced as the #1 ball carrier by next-generation Raven legend Willis McGahee, McGahee coming up with over 1200 yards rushing and WR Derrick Mason catching over 1000 yards as well, but Todd Heap had a down year of less than 300 yards receiving, and primarily due to the step down and general inconsistency of the QB play, the Ravens lost over 80 points of total offense. However it was also a very bad year for the defense who completely collapsed. In 2006 they were first in points and yards allowed. They fell all the way to 22nd/32 in yards allowed, and 6th in points allowed. As a result, the team’s overall point differential collapsed from +152 to -109. The only bright spot of this season was a game against the Patriots where the Ravens came shockingly close to breaking their eventual 16–0 regular season record, but of course that did not happen, and it also likely would not have changed what came next.
Final Analysis: 03–08
The Kyle Boller pick was a disastrous decisions for the Ravens that came at the wrong time as the defense began to slip, little by little, year by year. After years of ups and downs following the Super Bowl victory, the incredible collapse the 2007 season caused the Ravens front office to pull the plug on the tenure of head coach Brian Billick, the man that had lead them to their first great successes. At the time a somewhat shocking an unsentimental move, it proved to be the correct one, and one that emphasized, as the Marchibroda firing had, that this was a team that intended to have a winning culture, and that an inability to win would lead to an inability to keep one’s job. Still, in retrospect I find myself looking at the upsides of the Billick era.
The Ravens virtually always had some respectable level of talent on offense while also having a great defense, leading to an overall record of 85–67 with a postseason record of 5–3 under Brian Billick without ever having a true franchise QB. Ultimately, I believe the decision to draft Boller is what did him in, because the Ravens front office had a disastrous major decision that could be partially pinned on Billick, who was himself a part of the drafting process. Had the Ravens simply decided to bite the bullet in 2003, they maybe could’ve ended up with Ben Roethlisberger (although we definitely dodged a bullet in some respects with Ben) or maybe even, as inconsistent as he could be, Eli Manning. Had the bleeding continued into 2005 they may have been able to get Alex Smith or maybe even Aaron Rodgers, though likely that amount of losing would have simply lead to Billick losing his job faster. Ultimately, I feel a great deal of sympathy for Billick, the offensive coordinator of a historic late-90’s Minnesota Vikings offense, and a coach from the Bill Walsh tree regarded as (duh) an offensive-minded head coach who was simply never able to get a great leader at QB for his offense, and the one year they did, they went 13–3. I honestly believe that if they’d found the right QB, which given the circumstances seems impossible in retrospect, that Billick may even still be coaching today. As it stands, Billick took a job with the NFL network instead of looking for other opportunities, and he still has a positive relationship with the Ravens and their fanbase to this day.
Still, while the offensive core that was built and maintained around Boller lead to a smooth transition into the Harbaugh/Flacco era, my heart also breaks for that generation of players who simply aged out of really being able to compete. The skill-position group of Willis McGahee at runningback, Derrick Mason at wide receiver, and most especially Todd Heap at tight end showed up as the bloom was finally coming off of the rose of the 2000 Ravens Super Bowl team, and unfortunately it took the Ravens far too long to solidify at quarterback for these men to really have a chance to compete deep into the playoffs. I am a sentimental and unobjective fan of this team, but it had always been my belief that with the quality of play we had at those offensive skill positions, plus our great kicker Matt Stover, plus our legendary players on defense, that in the later years of the Billick era the Ravens still had a chance to make another Super Bowl. They never even got close. Thankfully for those three men in particular, the arrival of Joe Flacco helped them at least make it to the AFC championship game in 2008, to catch the faint smell of glory, and some of them even stuck around for a few more years, but none of them made it to the Ravens 2011 AFC championship game or the 2012 Super Bowl. Their best chances were in the mid-2000’s, and it really just goes to show that it’s nearly impossible for a great football team to be great in the postseason without a great quarterback.
When we return to this subject, we’ll be taking a deep dive into the next era of Ravens football, with John Harbaugh as head coach and Joe Flacco at quarterback. We’ll finally settle the question: was Joe Flacco “elite?”
No, he absolutely was not. See you then.
— Durante Pierpaoli, Lynnwood, WA via Laurel, MD, 2021