Ravens mine for fans' love vs. 49ers Upset win would help atone for near-misses

November 17, 1996|By Mike Preston | Mike Preston,SUN STAFF

SAN FRANCISCO -- The Ravens know there is a lot more left in this season than salvaging respect. They still can capture more hearts of a city today when they play the San Francisco 49ers.

The Orioles' season is over, and Baltimore has felt the first blast of the winter weather to come. A lot of fans might be huddled around the television, to see not only the Ravens (3-7), but also the 49ers, who have won five Super Bowls since 1977.

The 49ers (7-3) are favored by 12 points.

"The fans in Baltimore have received us well, but this is an ideal situation for us," Ravens starting center Wally Williams said. "We're going against a team that has won numerous Super Bowl titles in the last 10 years and they have a rich tradition.

"The way we have lost games in two of the last three weeks has not been fun," he said. "Not only will a win give the fans a boost, but us as well. There is a big incentive to play today."

Most of the Ravens' playoff talk has subsided. It came to a virtual end last Sunday in Jacksonville, Fla., when the Jaguars rallied from a 27-16 deficit with 6: 23 left to pull out a 30-27 victory.

It was the second straight game in which the Ravens had blown a big lead. Two weeks ago, the Ravens had an 18-point halftime advantage against the Cincinnati Bengals only to lose, 24-21, on a 34-yard field goal as time expired.

That's what has 49ers coach George Seifert worried. He knows the Ravens are hungry for a win, and he is hoping the 49ers have an even stronger desire coming off a 20-17 overtime loss to the Dallas Cowboys last week.

"We're not in this business to overlook anybody, but it happens sometimes," Seifert said. "I'm concerned, concerned enough that we have repeatedly showed the players a lot of film of Baltimore and what they can do.

"They have a really explosive offense, and with teams like that, you don't want them to jump out on you early because then they start gaining confidence. We have told our defense they have to turn it up a notch again today."

Ravens coach Ted Marchibroda wishes his concerns were as limited. Marchibroda can rattle off the star players in the 49ers' lineup in seconds.

"Jerry Rice, Steve Young, Brent Jones on offense. Merton Hanks, Bryant [Young], [Dana] Stubblefield and Ken Norton on defense," Marchibroda said. "Everybody is familiar with the players at San Francisco because of their sustained success for the past decade. This is a tough game for us.

"Go out on the road and face one of the elite teams in the league," he said. "They're in the thick of the playoff hunt, and realistically, we're not. But this is an opportunity for us, a chance to do something for ourselves a chance to show we're getting better and that our players are fighters."

It seems like a mismatch on paper, enhanced by the Ravens' injuries. Ten of the team's defensive starters have missed at least one game this season, and only on occasions have the Ravens had the same 11 players practice days in succession.

But the Ravens have a chance because they are strong where the 49ers are weak, and their weakness on the defensive line matches up against a 49ers offensive line that has struggled as well.

The Ravens have the league's No. 3 offense, including the second-ranked passing attack, and the 49ers' starting cornerbacks, Marquez Pope and Tyronne Drakeford, are average best.

If the Ravens are to be competitive, they have to score and offensive tackles Tony Jones and Orlando Brown have to control 49ers defensive ends Roy Barker and Chris Doleman, who have combined for 13 sacks.

San Francisco's defensive tackles, Young and Stubblefield, are generally regarded as the best tandem in the league.

"It's going to be a dogfight up front," the Ravens' Jones said. "It's tough being a tackle out there on the island by yourself, but we, as a group, welcome the challenge."

"Regardless of who we're playing, we're going to maintain the same game plan we have used all year, and that's go right at them," Williams said.

The Ravens will have to be more creative on defense. They have the third-worst defense in the league, allowing 374.9 yards, but at the same time, the 49ers' offensive line has been suspect.

One mismatch though, is that the 49ers run well on the perimeter and the Ravens have struggled, not stopping teams such as the Pittsburgh Steelers and Houston Oilers in that area.

The Ravens' secondary has been ravaged this season, and now it has the task of stopping Rice. The 49ers make it even more difficult containing Rice, the NFL's most productive receiver ever, by using him in motion.

"He is the consummate professional," Marchibroda said. "He catches everything thrown to him, runs well after the catch, makes the big play and leads by example with the overtime he puts in after practice. The best you can do is hope they run him into where you have double coverage and pray you don't have to stop him one-on-one.

"We'll give it everything we have against the 49ers. We'll need that kind of effort."

Pub Date: 11/17/96

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