Bench time shows when Zeier draws first call to action Reserve QB admits rust in timing and delivery after 49ers KO Testaverde

November 18, 1996|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

SAN FRANCISCO -- Facing the San Francisco 49ers' defense at muddy 3Com Park in a hard rain is not a favorable scene for any quarterback, let alone a guy who has yet to take a live snap 11 weeks into a lost season.

Before yesterday, the last time backup QB Eric Zeier saw game action was nearly three months ago, when the Ravens closed out their preseason in Buffalo. But when starter Vinny Testaverde went down with injured ribs early in the second quarter yesterday, after a sack by Kevin Mitchell, Zeier got the call.

"I did some good things, but you're not going to be as game-ready as you need to be," said Zeier, who felt like a stranger when he walked onto the field, since he had been used exclusively as practice quarterback this year. "It's been kind of an odd year in that way. The more snaps you get, the more confident you're going to feel and the better you're going to play. I haven't had those snaps."

When the Ravens' 38-20 loss -- their sixth defeat in the last seven games -- was complete, Zeier said that his unexpected day was incomplete.

Among Zeier's highlights was directing a 64-yard drive at the end of the first half, resulting in a 25-yard field goal by Matt Stover that cut San Francisco's lead to 17-13.

Then, early in the second half after defensive end Anthony Pleasant recovered a fumble by the 49ers' Terry Kirby and returned it 36 yards to the San Francisco 3, Zeier hit James Jones -- a defensive tackle filling in as a goal-line blocking back in place of the injured Carwell Gardner -- with a 2-yard touchdown pass. That gave the Ravens a 20-17 lead, their only advantage of the day.

After that, Zeier would rather forget the big plays he failed to make, especially two that helped San Francisco take control of the game early in the fourth quarter.

First, he tried to force a pass to Michael Jackson near midfield, and 49ers safety Merton Hanks intercepted. Then, after Ravens safety Eric Turner answered with an interception deep in Baltimore territory, Zeier lost a fumble after getting hit by defensive end Chris Doleman near the Ravens' goal line. Doleman recovered in the end zone to extend the 49ers' lead to 31-20 with 12: 08 left.

The bottom line is Zeier (10-for-21, 97 yards) gave the Ravens an early lift, but could not spark them in crunch time. In the second half, he completed just four of 11 passes for 37 yards, never drove the Ravens into San Francisco territory and produced only four first downs. With the bad weather and bad decisions, it was a rough day in the mud.

"I was a little antsy in the pocket," Zeier said. "I think that comes from not standing in there for 11 weeks and seeing what a real pass rush looks like. I was moving my feet in the pocket too much, and I lacked zip on the ball because of it. And we had some guys jumping offside because they are not used to my cadence. It wasn't the most ideal situation."

Testaverde had hoped to re-enter the game in the second half, but was left to watch Zeier's effort from the locker room and the bench.

"The tough part about Eric's job today is you're called upon to perform at a level to help your team win, and you haven't had enough snaps to prepare for that situation," Testaverde said. "It's a hard task, especially going up against a defense like theirs on the road."

The sudden change in quarterbacks clearly disrupted the Ravens' offense. Although Zeier was able to complete his first pass, a 14-yarder to Jackson that deflected off the hands of Hanks, the Ravens were hit by a delay-of-game penalty and false-start infraction, spoiling the drive. Later, Zeier wished he could have the interception back that he threw to Hanks, who in retrospect was covering Jackson too closely.

"Michael was my second option, and I should have gone to Floyd [Turner] in the flat. As soon as I threw it, I saw Hanks break on the ball and I knew he had a chance at it," Zeier said. "It takes a little while to get your feet wet."

Pub Date: 11/18/96

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