Ravens aiming for own tradition Strong finish could help set tone for '98

December 14, 1997|By Mike Preston | Mike Preston,SUN STAFF

Forgive the new football boys in the community if they can't get caught up in all the emotion and euphoria surrounding today's final NFL game at Memorial Stadium.

The Ravens (5-8-1) have another agenda. They want to begin a new era next year and enter their new stadium on a winning streak.

They defeated the Seattle Seahawks last week and look to build on that today against the Tennessee Oilers and next Sunday against the Cincinnati Bengals in the season finale.

And the Ravens want to create their own legends. Lenny Moore, meet Jonathan Ogden. John Unitas, say hello to Peter Boulware. Mike Curtis, this is Ray Lewis.

"Sorry, I can't talk about the memories of Memorial Stadium because I don't have any," said defensive end Michael McCrary.

"We have some great young players here," said Boulware, the rookie outside linebacker. "It's important that we start our own traditions, create our own identity. It all starts with winning."

After beating Seattle, 31-24, last Sunday, a number of the Ravens talked about their "new season." The team has played well in recent weeks, and the next two games are certainly winnable. But the Oilers will come into today's meeting with a slight edge.

When the teams met in September in Memphis, Tenn., the Ravens embarrassed the Oilers, 36-10. In the Oilers' last game, Dec. 4 in Cincinnati, Tennessee turned in its most horrendous performance of the season, losing to the Bengals, 41-14, to fall out of playoff contention.

The Ravens know the feeling of getting blown out. Remember the 37-0 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers on national television five weeks ago?

"We beat the Oilers in their house, they will remember that," McCrary said. "They got embarrassed last week and they are a pro football team. Guys in this league have a lot of pride. I know they will be ready to play."

Ravens wide receiver Michael Jackson said, "They feel strongly about the way the season has been going, so they're not going to be of the same mentality when we beat them the last time."

The Ravens will start third-year player Eric Zeier at quarterback for the second straight week. Coach Ted Marchibroda made the decision to start Zeier over Vinny Testaverde on Wednesday, three days after Zeier completed 17 of 28 passes for 302 yards and a touchdown against the Seahawks.

Zeier has started against the Oilers before. The last time was during his rookie season, one day before owner Art Modell announced that he was moving the franchise from Cleveland to Baltimore. The Browns lost, 37-10, as Zeier was intercepted on three consecutive possessions, leading to 13 points.

"That was a different time, a different team," Zeier said. "They [Oilers] play differently now, and they will play with the same defense they have been consistent with all year. I'm a little nervous, but you're always nervous before a game, that's natural."

Oilers coach Jeff Fisher is impressed with Zeier.

"He is as mobile as Vinny," he said. "In the last couple of weeks, he has matured. He has shown that he can move this offense."

When the teams last met, the Ravens took advantage of the speed of slot receiver Jermaine Lewis, who had eight receptions for 124 yards and a touchdown.

The Ravens expect a change of defense this time.

"I was more or less taking what they gave me," Lewis said. "Vinny was throwing a great ball. It worked and we had a good day. They're probably going to do something a little different."

Ravens offensive lineman Wally Williams, who's shifting from center to guard this week, said: "We have to keep a high intensity level. They have been playing good team defense, so we have to take the game to them. We haven't been putting a lot of points on the board. We put 31 on the board last week and we'll try to top that."

On defense, the Ravens will have to control running back Eddie George (315 carries, 1,245 yards) but likely must do it without top run-stopper Tony Siragusa, who is doubtful with a fractured middle finger on his right hand. Defensive tackle Larry Webster will start in place of Siragusa.

The ideal situation for the Ravens would be to get a big lead early and force quarterback Steve McNair to pass. McNair has completed only 184 of 344 passes for 2,344 yards and 14 touchdowns.

"Guys are fighting for jobs now," said Ravens kicker Matt Stover. "We've got to show character, look at each other and say, 'Let's win.' It's a character check.

"You have to be consistent every week. We've been consistent for a day, not for weeks."

Pub Date: 12/14/97

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