In Ravens' defense, they are no 4-1 team

September 29, 1997|By Ken Rosenthal

SAN DIEGO -- Every loss in the NFL is huge, but this one, at least, will serve a purpose.

Same old Ravens?

Sorry, Ted, no bulletin-board material this week.

This is a new team, a better team, but yesterday it became rather clear that it is not quite the Team of the '90s.

A "bump in the road," that's what Coach Ted called the Ravens' embarrassing 21-17 loss to San Diego.

In truth, it looked more like a pothole.

Certainly, it was a rude awakening, a reality check for a team that might have started to feel too good about itself after back-to-back road victories.

"If anyone was getting too overconfident, this game wiped any of that overconfidence out," quarterback Vinny Testaverde said.

Sure, the Ravens wanted to win.

But improving to 4-1 after this stinker would have been the worst thing that could have happened to this team.

They're not that good, OK?

They still make fourth-quarter mistakes.

And they couldn't cover a baby with a king-sized blanket.

"I don't know that there's anything to learn," Marchibroda said. "We played hard. We hit a bump in the road. That's going to happen.

"We're not going to change anything, do anything drastic because of this."


The Ravens already have changed something -- they finally benched cornerback Donny Brady in the second half, replacing him with Eugene Daniel.

And yes, they've got plenty to learn.

"We're going to have to bury this, put this behind us," guard Leo Goeas said. "It's a long season. We can learn from this."

Jacksonville also lost -- that's right, Baltimore, the Redskins did the Ravens a favor, enabling them to keep pace in the AFC Central.

Still, next week is Pittsburgh.

The Ravens can't play this poorly and expect to win.

"For whatever reason, we just didn't play up to our potential today," Testaverde said. "We can't have that."

The Ravens escaped after one such performance, beating the New York Giants, 24-23. They didn't deserve to get lucky again.

The offense produced only one touchdown. Testaverde threw two interceptions in the final four minutes. But the defense was by far the bigger problem.

The Ravens are still trying to figure out who was supposed to be where on their various blown coverages, but the numbers indict their entire secondary.

San Diego quarterback Stan Humphries played so poorly, he was booed by the crowd of 54,094. Yet, he still threw for a career-high 358 yards.

Humphries averaged 21 yards per completion, twice his season average. The Ravens allowed seven -- count 'em, seven -- passes of 27 or more yards.

All week, they focused on shutting down wide receiver Tony Martin. Well, they had the right idea. Martin caught touchdown passes of 36, 72 and 38 yards.

"We knew they couldn't run the ball -- they had to throw it," safety Stevon Moore said.

And still, the Ravens couldn't shut down San Diego, allowing a season-high 440 yards, nearly 200 more than the Chargers' average.

Those reborn Chargers had managed only three offensive touchdowns in their first three games, but they could have scored 40 points yesterday.

The only reason the Ravens stayed close is because Humphries threw two interceptions in the red zone, and San Diego lost a fumble inside the Ravens' 25.

"We knew it was going to be a dogfight," Ravens defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis said. "They had their backs to the wall. They were better than they had shown.

"We're able to stay in these games now, but you've got to make plays to win. We made plays in the fourth quarter, but we didn't make 'em in the first, second and third."

And in the fourth, the offense crumbled.

Daniel should help in the secondary -- he had one interception, and nearly made two more. And if Kim Herring emerges, the Ravens can drop Brady and DeRon Jenkins from their nickel package entirely.

They're not the only AFC Central team with coverage problems -- the Steelers entered yesterday's play ranked 29th in the league in pass defense, and the Oilers were 30th.

The Ravens were 27th.

Apparently, they didn't want to pull too far ahead of the pack.

In fairness, it was probably unrealistic to expect such a young team to produce three straight road victories. The Ravens still have every reason to be encouraged -- they're 3-2, and they don't leave Maryland again until November.

A victory yesterday, and they might have gotten carried away. A victory yesterday, and they might actually have started believing they were an emerging power.

"I don't see it as a big setback, but it's something we need to take a step back and look at," Testaverde said. "Now we start over, and try to get another run.

They're not that good, OK?

They don't deserve to be 4-1.

Next for Ravens

Opponent: Pittsburgh Steelers

Site: Memorial Stadium

When: 1 p.m. Sunday

TV/Radio: Ch. 11/WJFK (1300 AM), WLIF (101.9 FM)

Line: Steelers by 2

Series with Ravens: Tied 1-1'

Last meeting: Ravens won, 31-17, on Dec. 1, 1996, at Memorial Stadium

Pub Date: 9/29/97

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