'Replay' call a perfect fit with inept effort

September 29, 1997|By John Eisenberg

SAN DIEGO -- Instant replay appeared to help bring down the Ravens against the Chargers yesterday at Qualcomm Stadium, which is pretty interesting considering that the NFL outlawed instant replay five years ago.

But the Ravens can't blame their 21-17 loss on the mysterious officials' call that led to the winning touchdown for the Chargers.

The Ravens deserve the blame themselves for refusing to accept a game that the Chargers all but insisted on giving away.

Yes, the controversial call made a difference, but not nearly as much as the Ravens' relentless ineptitude on a 100-degree afternoon better suited for sunbathing at a nearby beach.

"We should have been in control the whole way," Ravens safety Stevon Moore said, "but we made too many mistakes."

Actually, the Chargers made the big mistakes for most of the game, losing three turnovers within 25 yards of the Ravens' end zone.

If not for those, the Chargers surely would have blown away the Ravens much earlier on a day when their offense struck for plays covering 72, 62, 38, 36, 35, 29 and 27 yards.

But the three turnovers kept the game close, and then the Ravens rallied and took a 17-14 lead midway through the third quarter on a touchdown pass from Vinny Testaverde to Jermaine Lewis.

The Chargers' offense drove back downfield late in the quarter and then appeared to commit another key blunder when halfback Terrell Fletcher fumbled as he was tackled on a screen pass; the Ravens' Michael McCrary recovered at the Ravens' 38 as the crowd booed another Chargers turnover in Ravens territory.

"I was in the middle of the pile and I heard two [officials'] voices shouting 'Baltimore ball! Baltimore ball!' so I got up and ran off the field," said Ravens middle linebacker Ray Lewis. "I was sitting on the bench and drinking from a water bottle when they told me the defense had to get back on the field. I went, 'What in the world is this?' "

It was an overruled call, that's what it was.

After a long delay and referee powwow -- during which a replay of the fumble was shown on the stadium scoreboard, appearing to show that Fletcher's knee had touched the ground before the ball came out -- the officials ruled that Fletcher's knee had touched the ground before the ball came out.

Quite a coincidence, huh?

A pool reporter asked referee Gerald Austin after the game if the officials had noticed the replay that seemed to indicate that their original call was wrong.

"We didn't peek," Austin said. "We didn't even think about it. We were just in our discussion."

Right. Sure.

Fifty-four thousand fans watched the replay.

Players on both teams watched the replay.

And the officials didn't?

"Hey, I thought instant replay was dead," Ray Lewis said. "I couldn't believe that call."

Neither could Ravens coach Ted Marchibroda, who was so angry that he took off his glasses while he berated the officials for the next five minutes. (Taking off the glasses is a Ditka-like tirade in Tedland.)

Austin said later that the first two officials on the scene tried only to determine which team recovered the fumble, leading to the "Baltimore's ball" signal, but then two other officials came from different angles and reported that Fletcher's knee had touched, leading to the overrule.

The whole scene came off about as crisply and authoritatively as a first-grade fire drill.

"I don't want to open a door that doesn't need to be opened, but the officiating really stunk," Ravens guard Leo Goeas said. "But I'm not going to use that as an excuse. We could have put the game away and should have put the game away."

Thank you, Leo.

It wasn't the officials' fault that the Chargers' offense and Ravens' defense came back onto the field after the "instant replay" call and Chargers quarterback Stan Humphries immediately completed a 38-yard touchdown pass to wide-open Tony Martin, giving the Chargers the lead.

It wasn't the officials' fault that the Ravens' defense was so inept throughout the day that Humphries played poorly enough to get booed, yet still set his career passing yardage record.

And it certainly wasn't the officials' fault that the Ravens refused to take the game in the fourth quarter when the Chargers were all but begging them.

When the Chargers gave up the ball on a drive-killing holding penalty, setting up the Ravens at their 46, Testaverde quickly returned the favor by throwing too soon for Michael Jackson on an out pattern, enabling Chargers safety Michael Dumas to read the play, react and intercept with 3: 57 to play.

Then, after a gruesome Chargers possession in which they failed to run the clock and wound up punting on fourth-and-25, the Ravens began a drive at the Chargers' 36, seemingly in great shape to save the win.

Wrong.

Goeas was flagged for holding, nullifying Testaverde's scramble to the San Diego 11.

Wide receiver Ryan Yarborough dropped a catchable ball in traffic inside the 15-yard line.

Derrick Alexander was flagged for a false start.

Finally, on fourth-and-25 from the 39, Testaverde was intercepted.

"Too many mistakes at the end," Testaverde said.

Too many mistakes all day, actually.

No, the brief, bizarre return of instant replay didn't help.

But in the end, the Ravens can only blame themselves for failing to win a game that the Chargers seemingly were determined to lose.

Pub Date: 9/29/97

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