Pickoffs again dig decisive early hole Mistake-prone Testaverde shoulders the blame for Ravens' 2nd straight loss

,, Oilers 29, Ravens 13

September 16, 1996|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

HOUSTON -- He blamed his receivers for dropping the ball, credited the Oilers' defense for causing some of his mistakes, and said he is still adjusting to a new offensive system. But in the end, Ravens quarterback Vinny Testaverde pointed the finger at himself for contributing heavily to the team's 29-13 demise at the Astrodome.

Testaverde completed 25 of 40 passes for 217 yards and two touchdowns, but his afternoon was defined by costly mistakes. As in three interceptions, including two in the first quarter that helped Houston take a 14-0 lead, blows from which the Ravens would not recover.

"It wasn't one of my better days, let's put it that way," Testaverde said. "We're 1-2. Any time you're not winning, a lot of it goes on the quarterback's shoulders. We all could do some things better. I just wish I had two throws back that hurt us today."

Testaverde's first interception, on the Ravens' opening possession, was not of his doing. He appeared to have completed a 15-yard pass to wide receiver Derrick Alexander for a first down, but Alexander juggled the ball as he was falling backward. Cornerback Darryll Lewis reached in and pulled the ball away, giving the Oilers possession at the Ravens' 35. Five plays later, Houston led 7-0.

Later in the first quarter, Testaverde rolled to his left, got rattled by Houston's blitz and tried to connect over the middle with wide receiver Calvin Williams -- who was closely covered by Lewis. But free safety Marcus Robertson read Testaverde perfectly and slid to his left to pick off the pass, then returned it 27 yards to the Ravens' 23. Three plays later, the Ravens trailed 14-0.

"They [Houston's pass rushers] were in my face, and I lost where that safety came from," Testaverde said. "I thought I had Calvin open. Things just went bad on us."

Things continued to go bad in the second half. Throughout the third quarter, the Ravens' offense sputtered, as Testaverde under-threw several open receivers. Then, the offense got rolling on a drive that began at the end of the third quarter, and found the Ravens deep in Houston territory with a chance to cut into the Oilers' 26-7 lead.

But on first-and-10 at the Oilers' 35, Testaverde tried to force the ball to wide receiver Michael Jackson in tight, man-to-man coverage. Lewis broke nicely on the ball and picked off that pass at the 18.

L For all intents and purposes, the game ended on that miscue.

"He made some mistakes," quarterback coach Don Strock said of Testaverde. "He made some bad decisions, and he's aware of it. I'm not making excuses for him. But in his defense, there were some dropped balls."

Five drops, to be exact. But Testaverde's mistakes, especially the pass Robertson intercepted to help stake Houston to a 14-0 lead heading into the second quarter, changed the game's complexion.

Recalling last week's 31-17 loss at Pittsburgh -- in which cornerback Rod Woodson picked off Testaverde's first pass and returned it for a score -- it put the Ravens in another early hole.

"Any time you get down 14 points early, on the road or at home, you've got a good chance to get beat," offensive tackle Tony Jones said. "We just can't have the turnovers we're having. Everybody pressures the running game. It ain't just the run. Until we become as one, like a family, we're not going to get it done. And we're not getting it done."

Testaverde, who has thrown four interceptions in the Ravens' back-to-back losses, promised the Ravens would regroup during their bye week, then rebound with better play, with him setting the tone.

"I have a lot of faith in this team. We're going to bounce back," Testaverde said. "I'm going to guarantee the city of Baltimore and my teammates that I won't have any more days like I had today."

Pub Date: 9/16/96

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