For Bills fans, an exhibition of futility

September 01, 1996|By John Eisenberg | John Eisenberg,SUN COLUMNIST

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- If the Ravens don't do another thing all season, they will always have Buffalo.

Glorious Buffalo, where they came and gave their best performance ever.

We're talking all-time!

The Ravens were almost perfect in their final preseason game against the Bills on Aug. 23 at Rich Stadium.

If only it mattered.

Their offense was prolific, their defense was crushing, their special teams were awesome.

They so confused the Bills that Buffalo coach Marv Levy called them the Colts after the game.

That Bert Jones was really slinging it!

There was only one negative aspect of the Ravens' 37-14 victory before 51,905 fans on a cloudy evening:

It didn't mean diddly.

The Bills were barely guilty of trying.

They did everything but yawn, order beers and pizza on the bench and count down the minutes to the end.

They should have offered their fans a refund, or at least a few reprises of the macarena.

The Better Business Bureau should investigate. Talk about false advertising.

Bruce Smith and Thurman Thomas didn't dress, Jim Kelly was pulled before the end of the first quarter and the Bills basically just bagged the game.

They weren't the real losers, of course; the real losers were the suckers who paid regular-season prices to sit and watch.

How bad was it?

The Ravens almost resembled Lombardi's Packers, not that Lombardi would have stood for coaching a bunch of guys with purple numbers on their jerseys. ("Poiple? Poiple? Who are we here, Little Sisters of the Poor?")

It was this bad: In the first half, when starters were playing against starters, the Ravens had 225 yards of offense and the Bills had 2.

That's 225-2, for those scoring at home.

In the first half, when the Bills' fans were still allegedly awake, the Ravens had 20 points, 14 first downs, four sacks of Buffalo quarterbacks and an 83-yard punt return for a touchdown.

The Bills had eight penalties, six punts, two first downs and no points.

It was as if Jay Leno were coaching the Bills, working the big crowd for a couple of laughs.

Instead, Levy was standing on the sidelines chomping so hard on a wad of gum that you would have thought it had insulted his mother.

The Bills had minus-23 yards passing in the first half.

Their third-string tailback, a little guy from Coe College, was carrying the rushing load before the end of the first quarter.

The Ravens would have scored 50 points, or maybe 60, if not for a few dropped balls early in the game.

How bad was it?

Scott Otis actually played.

No, he isn't the Orioles' latest no-name gamble in the bullpen.

He's the Ravens' third-string quarterback.

Mr. Clipboard.

With NFL Films-style dramatic music welling in the background, he threw down his clipboard and sprinted onto the field in the fourth quarter.

Quite a moment.

The victory gave the Ravens a 3-1 record for their first preseason in Baltimore.

They would have gone undefeated if not for Opie Taylor, the Packers kicker who beat them in the final seconds last week at Memorial Stadium.

Oh, sorry. That kicker's name was Richie Cunningham, not Opie.

Anyway, the Ravens' preseason was nothing if not a smashing success.

They were competitive in all four games against a schedule including three playoff teams from 1995.

Their offense was erratic, but produced often enough to win.

Their defense was superb.

Doing it in the regular season is another matter, of course.

"Our record? Zero and zero," safety Eric Turner said. "Preseason means nothing now."

Still, it was better to look like the Ravens than the Bills.

"I'm not really going to dwell on this game," Levy said.

Good idea.

The Ravens' offense was downright operatic against his defense, generating a mixture of soaring highs and hurtful lows.

The Ravens' defense was a rock.

The offense ran the ball, passed the ball, did just about anything it wanted.

The defense was a force.

Vinny Testaverde's first pass was intercepted. Then Michael Jackson dropped a touchdown pass. Then Jackson had the ball stolen from him after catching a pass. Then Testaverde fumbled while scrambling inside the Bills' 20, but fell on the ball to set up a touchdown.

It was a litany of mistakes, but, in the end, none of it mattered.

The defense was tremendous.

Sure, it had a backup quarterback named Todd Collins to kick around for most of the game, but it was tough on Kelly, too.

It had three sacks in the first quarter alone, four in the first 22 minutes.

There were all shapes and sizes of big plays. Stevon Moore's interception. Mike Croel's two sacks. Moore crashing through four blocks to upend a screen pass.

The Bills didn't come close to threatening to score until the fourth quarter, after the Ravens had a 30-0 lead.

By then, the fans were waiting for the macarena to play on the PA system before going home.

It was the highlight of their evening.

Pub Date: 9/01/96

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