As he leaned on his crutches, wincing from the throbbing pain in his left ankle, Ravens running back Jay Graham could barely manage a smile, even while reflecting on a day most rookies only dream about.
Talk about mixed emotions. The night before yesterday's 10-10 overtime affair with the Philadelphia Eagles, Graham found out he would be starting in place of injured Bam Morris (toe).
Graham followed his initial exhilaration with the kind of numbers the Ravens envisioned when they drafted him in the third round out of Tennessee. Three hours of slashing runs off tackle, quick bursts up the middle and power rushes produced 154 yards on 35 carries -- easily career highs on both counts.
Then again, the ending turned sour for Graham as well as his team. Midway through the overtime period, after gaining 2 yards on a run up the middle to the Ravens' 35, Graham suffered an ankle-bone bruise as he was tackled. He was forced to leave the game and watch the Ravens fail to win for the third straight week.
"When you get your shot, you've got to go all out and take advantage of it," Graham said. "At first, I felt the jitters, but I was just staying focused, trying to stay into the game. I feel like I lost. What does a tie mean?"
Graham, who will be re-evaluated today, then turned his attention to his ankle, saying, "I'm not sure how bad it is, but it sure feels pretty bad. I took a helmet right on the ankle. I was just hoping it wasn't broken. That's how much pain I was in."
It has been an up-and-down season for Graham. Since coming off the bench to play in the fourth quarter of the Ravens' 36-10 victory over Tennessee on Sept. 21, he basically had been ignored in the offense. His role primarily had been on special teams, while Morris had taken the reins of the Ravens' ground game.
Then there was Graham's embarrassing night in last week's 37-0 rout in Pittsburgh. He fumbled twice on the same kickoff return, with the second miscue coming after Steelers kicker Norm Johnson tackled him hard.
"That was kind of tough, but I just had to deal with it and step up," Graham said. "I was ready to carry it as much as they wanted me to carry it today."
Ravens offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden was impressed.
"A good day's work," he said. "You know he has the potential more than Bam does of breaking a 70-yard run. He ran hard and made the right cuts today. He saw the holes and he hit the holes."
On a cold, windy day when the Ravens elected to go the conservative route and batter the Eagles up front on the ground -- they produced a team-record 204 rushing yards -- Graham proved to be a speedy workhorse.
The Ravens turned to Graham on every offensive possession during regulation, and he responded by delivering nine runs for first downs, easily a team high.
Graham set the tone by running off right tackle for 6 and 10 yards on the Ravens' first two plays from scrimmage.
He made his presence felt especially in crunch time. Late in the first half, with the Ravens leading 7-0 and looking for more points, Graham led them on a 66-yard march. Graham carried five times for 35 yards on that drive, and his 16-yard burst off right tackle moved the ball to the Eagles' 13.
But on the next play, with 19 seconds remaining in the half, Ravens quarterback Vinny Testaverde was intercepted at the 7 by William Thomas.
Graham was at the center of the Ravens' next pivotal possession, a 14-play, 65-yard drive that ended with a 23-yard Matt Stover field goal, giving the Ravens a 10-3 lead with 3: 40 left in regulation.
Graham showed lots of toughness, rushing 10 times for 39 yards on the drive.
"He's a fine runner," Ravens coach Ted Marchibroda said. "Jay is ready to play, more so than he has been at any other time. We'll certainly use him much more [during the rest of the season]. He played the type of football that we felt he could play."
Pub Date: 11/17/97