Needing someone to step up, Ravens take another step back

FROM THE SIDELINES

November 25, 1996|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,SUN STAFF

This was another coulda, shoulda, woulda game for the Ravens.

They could have won and they probably should have won and they would have won if they had made any number of plays.

But the reason they're a losing team is they can't make game-winning plays. In their latest collapse, they blew a 15-point fourth-quarter lead and lost to the Jacksonville Jaguars, 28-25, yesterday.

When they evaluate this team in the off-season, they've got to find players who can make plays with the game on the line. They can't keep thinking that injuries are causing most of their problems. They lost this one because of two late fumbles and a defense that continues to collapse in the second half.

They also appear to be a tired team in the second half, and it might help if they find room under the salary cap next year so they can have a 53-man active roster and a five-man practice squad.

Although they now have three practice squad players, they operated much of the season without one and the extra burden in practice may have worn out a team already riddled with injuries.

Oh, yes, there's one other theory that was popular in the Ravens' locker room yesterday -- the hex theory. Maybe the football gods hexed them for leaving Cleveland. They're 4-16 since the move was announced last Nov. 6.

A look at the familiar highlights and lowlights of the loss that dropped the Ravens to 3-9.

Turning point: When the Ravens had a first down on the Jacksonville 13 late in the third quarters, they had to settle for a field goal that kept Jacksonville within two scores of tying it at 25-10. You could almost sense another fourth-quarter collapse.

Blown opportunities: The Ravens had first downs on the Jaguars' 25, 5, 12 and 13 on four different drives and came away with just nine points.

Bad call: The officiating was so bad it was almost comical. They had the usual long conferences and seemed clueless at times. To cite just two examples, they took away two Ravens fumble recoveries by an inadvertent whistle on a muffed punt and an incomplete pass ruling when Pete Mitchell had possession and fumbled.

Close call: Eric Turner, who intercepted a pass for the fifth straight game, just missed one that would have won the game in overtime. But that's the kind of players the Ravens have. They don't make game-winning plays.

The fumble, Part I: Since Vinny Testaverde played with bruised ribs, he has to be given the benefit of the doubt. But despite his usual gaudy stats, he fumbled a snap from Wally Williams that set up the game-tying drive. It's easy to blame the defense for all the problems, but Testaverde could have won two or three more games with the right play at the right time.

The fumble, Part II: Earnest Byner is a hard-working, dedicated player the coaches love. But his one flaw is that he has been known to fumble at the worst possible times. He did it in overtime yesterday and then ducked out of the locker room. At least when he did it to help cost Cleveland a shot at a Super Bowl in 1987, he talked about the gaffe after the game.

Bonehead play: Floyd Turner didn't run out of bounds when he caught a 7-yard pass with 39 seconds left in the first half. The Ravens had to waste a timeout they could have used when Derrick Alexander caught a 13-yard pass on the next play. On the 22 but with little time left, the Ravens had to settle for a field goal.

Bad decision: When the Jaguars jumped offside with 20 seconds left in regulation, Testaverde had a free play. But he gambled on a toss that Chris Hudson intercepted and kept running with until he went down with just 7 seconds left. Matt Stover then missed a 49-yard field-goal attempt. If Testaverde had thrown the ball away, they would have had time for another play that could have given Stover an easier kick.

Bad coverage: Donny Brady showed a lack of good technique when he ran right through Keenan McCardell down the left sideline for a 53-yard penalty that set up a second-quarter touchdown.

Gutsy call: On fourth-and-two at the Jacksonville 46 in overtime, Ted Marchibroda let Testaverde go for it and he threw an 8-yard pass to Brian Kinchen for the first down that kept alive what could have been a game-winning drive if Byner hadn't fumbled on the next play.

Call that backfired: Leading 22-10 in the third quarter, the Ravens went for two to try to get 14 points ahead. But Bam Morris was tackled short of the end zone. If they had kicked the extra point, they would have won in regulation, 26-25.

Best Ravens play: Mike Caldwell intercepted Mark Brunell's third pass and returned it 45 yards for a first-quarter touchdown.

Tight end: Eric Green was supposed to be the latest tight end who was going to take Kinchen's job. But Green, who has knee problems and isn't much of a practice player, wasn't even active for the game while Kinchen caught nine passes. He would have had a 10th, but he was grabbed by Bucky Brooks on a critical third down in the fourth quarter. Naturally, the officials didn't call it.

Good return: Jermaine Lewis returned the second-half kickoff 44 yards to set up a touchdown.

Poor decision: Lewis let the Jaguars' only punt in overtime bounce to the Ravens' 6, putting them in terrible field position.

Looking ahead: The Ravens have yet to win a division game and it's not only going to get any easier next Sunday when they play host to the Steelers. Pittsburgh beat them, 31-17, in the second game, when Jerome Bettis said he hadn't seen such holes since Notre Dame.

Pub Date: 11/25/96

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