Jaguars grow, but Ravens younger than that now

From the Sidelines

September 01, 1997|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,SUN STAFF

The Jacksonville Jaguars grew up last year, and the Ravens simply grew younger.

That was obvious in the season opener yesterday, when the Ravens found another way to blow a game to the Jaguars.

The Jaguars found out how to win on a day when their starting quarterback was out, their second-string quarterback was knocked out twice and came back limping both times, they were trailing by six in the fourth quarter and were so sloppy they were guilty of 11 penalties, including jumping offside six times.

Yet the final score still read: Jaguars 28, Ravens 27.

The Jaguars are good enough to find a way to win. The Ravens find a way to lose. They're still too young and rebuilding.

Sure, the Jaguars needed the help of what may have been a bad call from an official; Michael Jackson appeared to catch a first-down pass on the Ravens' final play, only to see the officials rule he trapped the ball. But it's nothing new for officials to make mistakes. Last year, the Ravens recovered a fumbled punt, only to have the official blow the play dead and give the ball back to the Jaguars. The Ravens have to learn how to overcome bad calls.

Coach Ted Marchibroda -- who didn't have one of his best days on the sidelines -- said this shouldn't be compared to last year, when he didn't have the players to win.

Marchibroda didn't seem to realize that's even more of an indictment. If the Ravens have the players -- and they're still several bricks shy of a load -- they should win.

That's what the Jaguars do.

The highlights and lowlights:

Turning point: This time, it wasn't just a case of the defense's blowing the lead the way it did last year, when Mark Brunell brought the Jaguars back from 27-16 and 25-10 deficits. This time, the offense got the ball three times in the last 5: 47, and not only couldn't get a field goal, but it also couldn't even get a first down.

Stepping up: Jermaine Lewis had a career game, catching four passes for 73 yards and two touchdowns, returning four kicks for 118 yards, three punts for 19 yards and running a 5-yard reverse. He was drafted as a kick returner, but now seems ready to blossom as a wide receiver. He was even alert enough to bang into Deon Figures and keep him from making a fourth-period interception.

Big hit: Rookie safety Kim Herring gets credit for the big hit on Natrone Means that forced the fumble with 1: 08 left and should have set up the winning field goal. It's not his fault the offense didn't put it away.

Testaverde file: This was the classic Vinny Testaverde game. He put up some nice numbers, passing for 322 yards and three touchdowns. Yet he threw three costly interceptions. Testaverde was hampered by a deep thigh bruise, but he didn't make the plays. It's popular to say Testaverde has been unfairly maligned in his career, but he gets maligned because of games like this.

Hero: Rob Johnson has the reputation of being a laid-back California surfer who was 0-5-1 against Notre Dame and UCLA in college at USC. But he was fearlessly riding the big wave yesterday in his first NFL start, throwing for 294 yards and two touchdowns even though he was twice knocked out with a sprained ankle. He said he didn't use painkillers, only aspirin, but those must have been awfully strong aspirins. Incidentally, the Browns bypassed this guy in 1995 to draft Eric Zeier.

Zebras: The NFL likes to say the officials blow only a small percentage of calls, but a lot of them seem to come in Ravens games. They were back at it again yesterday, when Sanford Rivers ruled Jackson didn't catch the final pass. The replay wasn't definitive, but he appeared to catch it. Jackson also virtually questioned Rivers' integrity, saying he made that call because Jackson complained about a ruling at the end of the first half. Jackson said that because players are fined, officials should be fined, too.

Filling in: Steve Matthews didn't join the Jaguars until Aug. 20, when the Kansas City Chiefs waived him, but he took nine snaps in the third period when Johnson was out and completed three of five passes. The important thing was that he didn't turn the ball over and kept the Jaguars in the game.

Toast: Cornerback Donny Brady is fortunate he doesn't play for Mike Ditka, who once said, "Donnell Woolford can't cover anybody" early in his career. But Brady had trouble covering the Jaguars and was burned for two touchdown passes. He was a stand-up player, though, and didn't make any excuses.

Old warrior: Earnest Byner still has something left in his tank. He ran 14 times for 63 yards to pass the 8,000-yard mark, and caught three passes for 31 yards. But it might be a good idea to spell him with Jay Graham on occasion to keep his legs fresh.

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