Ravens at point of no return Slim shot at playoffs on line vs. Jaguars

November 10, 1996|By Mike Preston | Mike Preston,SUN STAFF

The Ravens and Jacksonville Jaguars will reach the crossroads today when they meet at Jacksonville Municipal Stadium.

The winner keeps already small playoff hopes alive. The loser plays the rest of the season for pride.

"If we lose Sunday, there's going to be some stuff around here on Monday," Ravens offensive tackle Tony Jones said. "This is really our last chance to have a slim chance of getting to the playoffs.

"We've worked so hard in training camp on getting to the playoffs. This game will tell whether we can get there or not."

It's that simple. Both teams enter the game with 3-6 records and each will have six games remaining, including four against AFC Central rivals.

"In a sense, we still have some control over our own destiny," Ravens reserve safety Bennie Thompson said.

The game shapes up to be a shootout. The Ravens have averaged 30.2 points in the last five games, but have given up 34.4 in the same span.

The Ravens have the No. 3 offense in the league, but one spot ahead of them are the Jaguars, who are averaging 368.9 yards in an offense that features the NFL's top passing attack paced by quarterback Mark Brunell.

But like the Ravens, the Jaguars can't hold a lead. They've lost all six games in the fourth quarters. Get the calculators ready.

"That's not the way we're looking at it," Jaguars defensive end Jeff Lageman said. "If we go into this game thinking it's going to be a shootout, then that's not a good way to approach it. Our goal is to shut them down."

The Jaguars go into the game relatively healthy, especially on defense, but the Ravens still have major injury problems on defense.

The Ravens will start tackles Elliott Fortune, Rick Lyle and nose guard James Jones on the defensive line. At the beginning of training camp, Jones was playing for the Denver Broncos and Fortune and Lyle were fighting to make the team.

Fortune and Lyle will start today because of season-ending injuries to end Rob Burnett (knee) and tackle Dan Footman (fractured forearm) nearly four weeks ago.

In fact, of the starting four defensive linemen at the beginning of camp, only end Anthony Pleasant is playing, and a severe ankle sprain has caused him to miss six games.

"I'm concerned about the defense, how it's going to hold up," Ravens coach Ted Marchibroda said. "We're pretty banged up. As long as we play hard, we do have a chance. It's guys like Fortune and Lyle who have to step up and make the best of this opportunity."

The Ravens will see two familiar faces in Jaguars starters Keenan McCardell and Andre Rison, the top two wide receivers with the Cleveland Browns a year ago.

McCardell is third in the AFC in receptions with 55 and Rison has 26 despite missing the past month with a leg injury. Both were free agents at the end of last season. Rison was cut two weeks before the Ravens opened training camp.

"Those guys really didn't make an offer," McCardell said of the Ravens. "They wanted me to keep them in the loop, but it was more like, 'We'd like to have you, but we don't have to.' I just want them to know I can play football."

McCardell may be matched up against rookie cornerback DeRon Jenkins, who probably will make his first start for the injured Antonio Langham (hamstring).

"Our secondary knows their guys," Marchibroda said. "This is a challenge for DeRon. He has gotten a week of practice, and now is his time."

Actually, the team's offense may be its best defense. Bam Morris will start as the feature back for the Ravens, who are expected to run a lot more today than in past weeks.

"I'm pretty excited," Morris said. "I've had a pretty good week of practice. I'm not a savior, I don't want that kind of pressure. I'm just one man trying to help the offense."

It will be interesting to see how much Marchibroda does run because the Jaguars have a suspect secondary, and, like the Ravens, will start a rookie, Aaron Beasley, at cornerback.

"They are certainly aware of who is going to be in the secondary," Jaguars coach Tom Coughlin said.

Brunell said the Jaguars are aware of another thing going into this game.

"I'm sure they're looking for redemption after what happened last week," he said of the Ravens, who blew an 18-point halftime lead in a 24-21 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals. "We've got to make sure we score enough points. Whatever they score, we better score more."

Today's game

Ravens (3-6) at Jaguars (3-6)

Site: Jacksonville (Fla.) Municipal Stadium

Time: 4 p.m.

TV/Radio: Ch. 11/WJFK (1300 AM), WLIF (101.9FM)

Line: Jaguars by 3 1/2

Pub Date: 11/11/96

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