Beating winless team fine, but Pats will be true test

FROM THE SIDELINES

September 30, 1996|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,SUN STAFF

The Ravens have proved two things through one-fourth of their first season.

They can beat bad teams at home (two wins against teams with a combined 1-9 mark), but have problems beating competitive teams on the road.

That's why the Ravens' 17-10 victory over the New Orleans Saints yesterday at Memorial Stadium set the stage for what is likely to be the defining game of their first season, when they play host to the New England Patriots on Sunday. The Patriots' defensive coordinator happens to be former Browns coach Bill Belichick.

If the 2-2 Ravens can beat the 2-2 Patriots, who had a bye yesterday, they'll be 3-2 when they go on the road to play Indianapolis and Denver and can do no worse than play the St. Louis Rams for a .500 mark when they come home on Oct. 27.

But if they lose Sunday, they'd have to win at least one of the road games to avoid a 2-5 start.

It's difficult to evaluate where they stand after the win over the Saints because 0-5 New Orleans is one of the worst teams in the league. The best that can be said is that the Ravens were supposed to beat the Saints, and they did.

* Turning point: The game turned on two fourth-and-one plays in the fourth quarter. The Saints tried a quarterback sneak at the Baltimore 31 with 6: 31 left and botched it. The snap came before Jim Everett expected it, and he had to stop to grab it before he made his push. The Saints never got the ball back because the Ravens, facing fourth-and-one at the Saints' 40 with a little more than two minutes left, got a 2-yard run by Earnest Byner.

* Vinny file: Coach Ted Marchibroda called it a "good Testaverde game," which may be faint praise. By running for 165 yards against a Saints team that went into the game ranked 29th against the run, the Ravens were able to keep the pressure off Vinny Testaverde, who had to throw just 20 passes. His biggest play came on the game-winning touchdown pass when Eric Allen covered the original route so Testaverde tried what he called a "sandlot" play, a high pass that Michael Jackson pulled down in the left corner of the end zone. Testaverde's game may be sandlot ball.

* Old man: Earnest Byner, who refuses to act his age (34), piled up 149 yards on 24 carries, much of it in the one-back offense because the Ravens have just three running backs on the roster until Bam Morris becomes eligible. OK, it was against the Saints' defense, which makes every running back look like Walter Payton, but Byner showed why coaches love his determination and work ethic. He showed his leadership qualities when he gave the players a postgame talk, reminding them that they have to use this game as a springboard.

* Quick recovery: Jermaine Lewis fumbled the Saints' first punt of the game inside his own 10. If the Saints had recovered, they probably would have taken a quick lead. But Lewis was alert enough to recover the fumble on his own 9. Six plays later, the Ravens scored and took the lead. Lewis' recovery may have set the tone for the game.

* Pinning them back: Greg Montgomery twice pinned the Saints inside their 10-yard line. The first time, he did it in the second quarter by shanking his first punt on fourth-and-12 from the Saints' 35. But the ball rolled to the Saints' 5. That was critical when the Saints drove 75 yards, but got no points when Doug Brien missed a 38-yard field-goal attempt. In the third quarter, he pinned them back again to their 8 with a 67-yard punt and they were forced to punt the ball right back. Those two punts played a big role in the win.

* Life on the corner: Antonio Langham experienced the ups and downs of a cornerback as he demonstrated why it's such a tough position to play. He made a bonehead play in the second quarter when he was caught pushing Haywood Jeffires, which wiped out his interception. He later made the plays on a pair of third downs that forced the Saints to punt twice. He offset those plays when he gave up a touchdown pass to Michael Haynes, who got a hand on his back, but not enough to get called for pushing off.

* Stepping up: Donny Brady, making his first start at cornerback in place of Issac Booth, was called for pass interference early in the game. A key thing for a cornerback is not to let a bad play get him down, and he didn't. He came back to make eight tackles and defense a pass and figures to remain a starter.

* Watching the clock: Testaverde and Floyd Turner managed to ruin a field-goal attempt at the end of the first half. With 25 seconds left, they faced third-and-six at the New Orleans 35, which would have been a 52-yard attempt. Since the Ravens had no timeouts left, the only option was to throw a sideline pass so the receiver could catch the ball and get out of bounds. But Turner, who caught a 5-yarder, didn't get out of bounds. The field-goal team had to rush onto the field, and Matt Stover's 48-yard attempt didn't even get to the end zone.

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