In big-play game, Zeier a big-time player


December 08, 1997|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,SUN STAFF

This game was made for the guys who put together those TV highlight shows.

There were punt returns for touchdowns of 89 and 66 yards by Jermaine Lewis. There was a 42-yard fumble return for a touchdown. And they were passes of 92 and 60 yards.

But the most significant aspect of the Ravens' 31-24 victory over the Seattle Seahawks yesterday was that the Ravens may have found a quarterback they can depend on.

The Ravens were doing an impression of Inspector Clouseau in the past few weeks, trying to figure out what was wrong with their sputtering offense.

They finally stumbled across a clue yesterday after doing their best to ignore the obvious: It's the quarterback.

Eric Zeier, who got the start only because Vinny Testaverde hurt his knee last week, gave the Ravens a dimension they haven't had in their first 29 games -- a quarterback who didn't lose the game with a big mistake.

Zeier showed a lot of poise for a young quarterback starting his first game in two years. He passed for 302 yards and didn't throw an interception. Center Wally Williams took the blame for a fumbled exchange that Chad Brown turned into a touchdown. Zeier was sacked three times, but often threw the ball away when he was in trouble. And with the game on the line in the last 20 minutes, he made two big-time throws to decide the game.

It's still too early to make a judgment on Zeier, but he at least earned a longer look. Coach Ted Marchibroda said he won't decide until Wednesday whether to give Zeier another start.

Don't worry. Even Inspector Clouseau could figure this one out. Testaverde has lost the fans. They've seen him make too many mistakes. The Ravens, who didn't announce no-shows, sold only 54,395 tickets but probably didn't have many more than 40,000 fans in the stands. They can't afford to alienate fans.

Highlights and lowlights of the Ravens' second home victory this year:

Turning point: With the game tied 24-24 with 11: 42 left in the game, the Seahawks pinned the Ravens on their 7 as Rohn Stark angled a punt out of bounds to keep the ball out of Lewis' hands. On the first play, Derrick Alexander, who just got out of Marchibroda's doghouse, beat cornerback Fred Thomas deep with a stop-and-go pattern and went 92 yards before Thomas pulled him down on the 1. That set up the deciding touchdown.

Best plays: Lewis, whose effectiveness was hurt by an ankle injury the past two months, shredded the Seahawks' special teams with his two touchdown runs on punt returns. On the first one, Lewis cut right and went back against the grain. On the second one, he went down the right sideline, and Bennie Thompson flattened Stark, the last of the Baltimore Colts. The Seahawks' special teams have given up 68 points in the past six games.

Zeier file: Zeier made two perfect throws, the 29-yard touchdown pass to Lewis in the third quarter and the 92-yarder in the fourth quarter to Alexander to decide the game. But even more significant was that he coped with adversity early when the Ravens were pinned deep in their territory and he was sacked for a safety. He didn't lose his poise and make a big mistake. It was a good effort for a player many scouts thought was too

small to be a big-time player.

Message received: Alexander, who was kept on the bench for 5 1/2 quarters for his mishaps on and off the field, finally got to play midway through the second quarter and caught six passes for 150 yards. Marchibroda said he wasn't sending a message and Alexander said he had nothing to learn, but he conceded he found out, "There's always somebody to replace you no matter how good you think you are." That sounds as if he got the message and he'll be back starting next week.

Scary moment: Seattle linebackers Winston Moss and Brown collided helmet to helmet in the first half. Moss suffered a cracked bone in his neck, but doesn't appear to have permanent damage and traveled back to Seattle with the team. Brown came back and played despite a concussion.

Pass rush: The Ravens got four sacks -- that's $4 off on your pizza tonight -- with rookie Peter Boulware getting two of them. But the real damage was done by back-to-back hits by Boulware and Michael McCrary that caused Seahawks quarterback Warren Moon to suffer rib ligament damage, eventually forcing him out of the game. The Ravens played a two-deep zone to take away the deep pass with their patched-up secondary, but it helped that Moon had trouble throwing deep with the ailing ribs.

Backup: John Friesz, who hadn't played since the opener when he was knocked out with a broken right thumb, was rusty and ineffective when he replaced Moon. Eight of his passes were caught, but three were by the Ravens.

Good debut: Rookie Ralph Staten, a converted linebacker making his first start at safety because the Ravens were ravaged by injuries in the secondary, intercepted two fourth-quarter passes.

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