First meeting in '96 one to remember for Jaguars Jacksonville would soar after rallying to victory

Ravens notebook

November 28, 1997|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

When the Ravens played the Jacksonville Jaguars for the first time in 1996, both teams were mired in the basement of the AFC Central with 3-6 records and seemingly going nowhere.

In hindsight, what happened on that Nov. 10 afternoon in Jacksonville sent the two franchises spiraling in opposite directions.

The Ravens took an 11-point lead with six minutes left in the contest, only to watch Jaguars quarterback Mark Brunell lead a two-touchdown rally that left the Ravens with a 30-27 loss.

Jacksonville used that win as a springboard to the AFC championship game, and they have sustained that momentum by challenging Pittsburgh for this year's division title. Both teams are 8-4.

The Ravens, after staggering to a 4-12 finish last year, have watched a promising 3-1 start disintegrate with a 1-6-1 showing over the past two months.

Since that Nov. 10 game last year, Jacksonville has a 15-6 record. Over that same stretch, the Ravens are 5-12-1.

"That was kind of a turning point for us," Brunell said of the win against the Ravens. "We gained confidence with that game. Up until that game, we would lose games in the fourth quarter, either by turning the ball over, a penalty or not making a big play."

The Ravens know a thing or two about losing close games,

which they have turned into something of an art form. Three of their past four games have come down to the last play. The Ravens are 0-2-1 in those games.

Against Jacksonville over the past two seasons, the Ravens are 0-3. They have lost those games by a combined seven points, including a 28-27 decision at home in this season's opener Aug. 31.

As if the deck isn't stacked enough against the Ravens this week, the Jaguars also have won their past 12 games at home. Only Green Bay, with a 25-game winning streak at Lambeau Field, has been better at home.

Season of discontent

It has been a maddening season in several ways for wide receiver Michael Jackson.

The Ravens have fallen out of the playoff picture with a thud, partly because their offense has become anemic in recent weeks. The team has leaned heavily on the running and short-passing games, and Jackson has not been as nearly effective a deep threat as he was in 1996, when he recorded career highs in catches (76), yards (1,201) and touchdowns (14).

Then there are Jackson's physical problems. A tear in his right biceps nearly sidelined him several weeks ago. He also has been fighting a severe back strain.

"Michael has made a very courageous decision [to keep playing]. He's playing with a lot of pain," said team physician Claude T. Moorman.

Jackson, who had talked about sitting out the rest of the season if the Ravens disappeared from the playoff hunt, presses on.

"I've been in the league for a few years, so I know my limitations," said Jackson, who has caught 49 passes for 678 yards and three touchdowns. "I'm not going to hurt the team, and I know I can put myself in a position to help the team, even with the injury.

"I could have just said hey, [the Ravens] have given me my money, and I'll just shut it down. But I love this game too much, and I want to be a deciding factor [for the rest of the season]."

Et cetera

The Ravens, averaging just 12.0 points over their past six games, are averaging 19.4 points overall. The Jaguars are tied for the AFC lead in turnover ratio at plus-9; the Ravens are next-to-last in the conference at minus-10. The Ravens have committed 29 turnovers, the fifth-worst total in the NFL. Ravens kicker Matt Stover has not had many chances to shine in recent weeks, although he is still having an outstanding year, having made 25 of 28 field-goal attempts. Stover is 19-for-19 from inside the 40. The Ravens lost rookie offensive lineman Jerome Daniels from their practice roster yesterday, when the Arizona Cardinals signed him to their active roster.

Pub Date: 11/28/97

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