Loss is built on mistakes and fakes STEELERS 42, RAVENS 34

From The Sidelines

October 06, 1997|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,SUN STAFF

When the Pittsburgh Steelers put wide receiver Yancey Thigpen on the kickoff receiving team to start the second half yesterday, the Ravens spotted him immediately.

Since Thigpen doesn't usually play on the return team, special teams demon Bennie Thompson immediately started yelling, "Reverse! Reverse!" Special teams coach Scott O'Brien had warned the Ravens that when Thigpen comes in, the Steelers usually try a reverse or a fake reverse.

So when Will Blackwell caught the ball, started running to his right and appeared to hand off to Thigpen, the Ravens all flowed to their right toward Thigpen as he turned the corner.

The problem was that the Ravens forgot about the fake reverse and Thigpen didn't have the ball. The Steelers had put Thigpen in as a decoy. Blackwell kept the ball and ran 97 yards down the right sideline for the touchdown that cut the Steelers' deficit to 24-14. Mistakes like that are the reason the Ravens are a .500 team.

The Ravens were still 10 points ahead, but the Steelers had popped their balloon. The Ravens' 21-0 and 24-7 second-quarter leads were slipping away, and the large contingent of Steelers fans, who were sitting on their Terrible Towels in the first half, came alive.

The rest was the Kordell Stewart Show. He made five of the worst plays a quarterback can make, throwing three interceptions and just missing a fourth with an ill-advised throw across the field, then taking a 21-yard sack in the fourth quarter instead of throwing the ball away.

But he overcame the misplays with three touchdown passes and ran 74 yards for another one in the Steelers' 42-34 win. Stewart delights those guys who put together the TV highlight shows.

For the Ravens, it was a devastating defeat. Thompson was so distraught afterward that he had to fight back the tears and couldn't talk about it.

This game was the difference between a 3-3 record and a 4-2 mark going into the bye week, and it even appeared to deflate coach Ted Marchibroda, who used those two little ugly words: "last year." After saying the team is still in the hunt, he added, "This has been going on all the way back to last year."

As long as the Ravens keep making the types of mistakes they did last year, they won't be a winning team.

Highlights and lowlights of a loss that dropped the team to .500 after a promising 3-1 start:

Turning point: Marchibroda gave the team several examples at halftime of teams that overcame big halftime deficits. If they had stopped the Steelers on their first second-half possession, they would have had a 24-7 lead and the ball. Instead, Blackwell ran the opening kickoff back for a touchdown that made it 24-14 and started the Steelers on their comeback.

Second guess: Leading 21-0 in the second quarter, the Ravens had the ball on two different drives and tried pass plays on five of the six plays. On the sixth one, Vinny Testaverde was stripped of the ball, giving the Steelers the ball on the Ravens' 29. That set up an easy Steelers touchdown. With the big lead, the Ravens would have been better off running Bam Morris.

Ground game: The Ravens led for three quarters and yet ran Morris just 15 times. The Steelers trailed and ran Jerome Bettis 28 times. The Ravens ran the ball just 18 times in the game. NFL teams that have run fewer than 25 times have lost 83 percent of the time the past three years. The Ravens need a running game to complement their passing attack.

Testaverde file: Playing the Steelers is not Testaverde's forte. They beat him three times in 1994, and last year was the first time he won a game in which he started and finished against them. It was the kind of inconsistent game that is his trademark. He threw three touchdown passes, but fumbled twice and was intercepted twice, although the last one was a Hail Mary pass at the end.

Highlight-reel play: The Steelers were hanging onto a 35-32 lead at the two-minute warning, facing third-and-four at their own 26. Stewart lined up over the center instead of the shotgun, so it looked like a running play, but the call was a surprise. Stewart faked a reverse, ran to his left, cut inside of Peter Boulware, beat a diving attempt by Eugene Daniel and went 74 yards for the touchdown that clinched it. He strained a quadriceps on the play, then collapsed on his back in the end zone.

Replay: Remember Stewart's Hail Mary game-winning touchdown pass to Michael Westbrook for Colorado against Michigan? He pulled off a similar play when the Steelers, leading 28-24, faced third-and-eight on their 13 with six minutes left. Stewart rolled to his right and heaved it as far he could. It went about 70 yards in the air, but couldn't quite reach Blackwell, who was open deep. As Blackwell came back to the ball, Thigpen, who was double-covered, leaped and caught it for a 63-yard gain between Rondell Jones and DeRon Jenkins.

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