Domination on ground lifts Ravens RAVENS 23, BENGALS 10

From The Sidelines

September 08, 1997|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,SUN STAFF

The Ravens showed yesterday what a simple game football can be.

When a team can run the football and stop the run, everything else falls in place.

That's what the Ravens did, and the result was a convincing 23-10 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals that evened their record at 1-1.

The Ravens, who last week tried to pass from the Jacksonville Jaguars' 5 in the fourth quarter and couldn't run it in last December in Cincinnati after having a first down on the Bengals' 6 in the final minute, set the tempo when they ran the ball six times on their first eight plays.

They managed to kill that drive by getting penalized four straight plays and then turned the ball over three times the rest of the half, which is why they trailed 10-3 at halftime.

But they kept dominating the line of scrimmage with the help of the no-huddle offense, and it eventually took its toll. With rookie Jay Graham adding a change of pace for Earnest Byner, the Ravens ran 35 times for 146 yards, while the Bengals ran just 14 times for 56 yards.

Jeff Blake did pass for 317 yards, but the Ravens were able to sack him five times because they didn't have to respect the run. Teams that have run fewer than 25 times the past three years have won just 17 percent of the time.

When teams can run the ball, they don't blow fourth-quarter leads, and the Ravens didn't this time.

There were a lot of other factors, including the fact that Matt Stover made three field goals while Doug Pelfrey missed three of four attempts, but this was a game the Ravens won in the trenches.

It's unfortunate the game was blacked out on TV because it gave the Ravens a chance to show their potential. But the next eight games are already set to be televised, so the Ravens will have plenty of chances to sell themselves to the Baltimore fans, who are still adjusting to having an AFC Central team.

The Redskins are still the team the Baltimore fans love to hate, and the fans cheered when Pittsburgh's victory over Washington was announced, even though the Steelers' victory kept them tied with the Ravens.

Highlights and lowlights of the game that showed the Ravens have improved from last season:

Turning point: Leading 13-10 in the fourth quarter, the Ravens put together a 12-play, 96-yard drive against the tiring Cincinnati defense to take control of the game.

Young legs: Graham showed that the Ravens may not miss Bam Morris, running 16 times for 73 yards and eight first downs. It's still puzzling why the Ravens didn't play him last week.

Hogs?: This offensive line may need a nickname. With Orlando Brown, who has his own nickname (Zeus), leading the charge, the Ravens dominated the Bengals even after Quentin Neujahr went out with a sprained ankle. Ben Cavil, who has been with the team two weeks, stepped in at left guard, and Leo Goeas moved to center to fill in for Neujahr. The line also allowed Testaverde to be sacked just once.

Milestone: Byner rushed 17 times for 75 yards to move onto the list of the top 20 rushers all-time. Because he's still remembered for one of the most famous fumbles in NFL history, it's appropriate that he came back from a second-quarter fumble to make the list.

Testaverde file: Vinny Testaverde did a good job of running the no-huddle and passed for 275 yards, but he threw a second-quarter pass into double coverage that Ashley Ambrose intercepted with a one-handed stab, and he twice overthrew Michael Jackson.

Debut: Michael McCrary, who missed the entire preseason and the first regular-season game with a knee injury, made an immediate impact, collecting four tackles and a 1 1/2 sacks.

Learning fast: Rookie Peter Boulware, playing in only his third game since ending his holdout, had three tackles and a 1 1/2 sacks.

Veteran: Ray Lewis, the veteran of the Ravens' linebacking corps in his second season, had 10 tackles and a sack that was one of the big plays of the game. He threw Jeff Blake for a 7-yard loss on third down on the Bengals' first drive of the second half, forcing Pelfrey to try a 51-yard field goal, which he missed.

Comeback: After a shaky first game, coach Ted Marchibroda rebounded. He kept the team together after a disheartening loss, got the ball in Graham's hands and picked the right time to use the no-huddle. He also has this team in good condition, because the Bengals were dragging in the fourth quarter.

Coverage: The Ravens' much-maligned secondary gave up just one touchdown pass and never let the Bengals receivers take over the game, even though Carl Pickens caught eight passes. It helped that Stevon Moore had two interceptions.

Key block: Rondell Jones, obtained as a free agent this year, blocked Pelfrey's 46-yard attempt in the fourth quarter with a corner rush that kept the Bengals from cutting the lead to a touchdown.

Blunder: Punt returners are taught never to field a punt inside their 10-yard line, but Ray Ethridge caught one at the Ravens' 4 in the fourth quarter. However, the Ravens then marched 96 yards for a touchdown.

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