Finale memorable for ability to win, too

From The Sidelines

December 15, 1997|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,SUN STAFF

For a few golden moments, the Ravens went back to the future yesterday and caught a glimpse of the way things once were for football in Baltimore.

The Big Wheel was leading cheers of C-O-L-T-S. One fan was wearing a Colts helmet. The stadium was rocking one more time as John Unitas and some of the legends took the field one more time. A small plane flew over the stadium carrying a sign -- "Unitas We Stand -- Go Ravens."

To top it all off, the Ravens, who so often have found ways to lose in their first two years, found a way to win the last game at Memorial Stadium.

They overcame a ball fumbled out of the end zone, two blocked field-goal attempts, a pass dropped in the end zone, an interception nullified by a penalty and a lost onside kick in the final minute.

Yet they won their second straight game, a 21-19 decision over Tennessee to complete a sweep of the Oilers.

Instead of being satisfied with a close loss, they put the game in the win column. The Ravens trailed in first downs, total yardage, time of possession and ran just four plays in the third quarter. But the only statistics that really count are wins and losses.

The past two decades have been tough for Baltimore football fans. Since the Christmas Eve overtime loss to the Oakland Raiders in the 1977 "Ghost to the Post" game, Baltimore fans haven't had a winning team to cheer for, much less a home playoff game.

The Colts finished with six straight losing seasons and left town. Then there were the 12 long wilderness years without a team, and then the Cleveland Browns-turned-Ravens arrived and promptly won only eight of their first 29 games.

But now they have won two straight and have given the old stadium a proper send-off. The Ravens can only hope that it's a sign of things to come in the new stadium.

Highlights and lowlights of the memorable Memorial Stadium finale:

Turning point: The Ravens were protecting a 14-12 lead when the Oilers had a third-and-eight play at their 22 with 10 minutes left. Steve McNair went back to pass, pumped once, brought the ball back down and started to scramble. Keith Washington came up behind him and stripped the ball, with James Jones recovering. On the next play, the Ravens had the winning margin when Eric Zeier threw a 15-yard touchdown pass to Derrick Alexander to make it 21-12. The Oilers rallied but couldn't overcome the deficit.

Goal-line stand: Midway through the third quarter, the Oilers got a first down on the Baltimore 2, trailing 14-6. The Ravens stuffed Eddie George on the first two downs, and after McNair threw an incomplete pass on third down, the Oilers decided to go for the touchdown instead of taking the field goal to cut the deficit to 14-9. If the Oilers had still been in the playoff race, coach Jeff Fisher might have been more conservative. But with his team out of the race, he rolled the dice and went for it. McNair rolled to his left, but Washington contained him and then leaped up and tipped away his pass to end the 17-play drive that produced no points.

Zeier file: Zeier played well for the second straight week. After completing just one of his first eight -- although that was a touchdown throw -- he came back to throw for three touchdowns, wasn't intercepted and didn't fumble. He continued to show a lot of poise and will start the finale in Cincinnati next week, although coach Ted Marchibroda will continue his policy of not naming him until Wednesday. But all the Jim Kelly rumors might illustrate that Marchibroda isn't sold on him as the quarterback of the future. Although the Ravens are officially denying the rumors, Marchibroda said "I don't know" when asked if there's any possibility the club will sign Kelly.

Best play: On a third-and-three play at the Tennessee 37 in the second quarter, Zeier showed his mobility. Flushed out of the pocket, he ran to his right, pulled up just before he reached the sideline and threw a pass to Eric Green, who caught it in full stride and ran into the end zone.

Patched-up line: Since Tony Siragusa wasn't active and Michael McCrary and Rob Burnett were forced out with injuries, the Ravens had to rely on a makeshift defensive line, and it was effective. Although George had 129 yards in 26 carries, he got 48 of those yards on two runs. In the other 24 carries, he was held to 81 yards. The Ravens dared the Oilers to pass by jamming the line, and McNair wasn't able to burn their secondary.

Drop: Frank Wycheck, the former Maryland player, caught eight passes for 56 yards, but he dropped a pass early in the fourth quarter on a third-and-seven play at the Tennessee 23 when he was wide-open.

Fumble: Michael Jackson went 22 yards to the Oilers' 1 with 36 seconds left in the first half. The Ravens were in position to go up 21-6, but Jackson fumbled out of the end zone as he went down and the Oilers got the ball back.

Redemption: Alexander dropped a ball in the end zone late in the first quarter, but he came back to catch a touchdown pass in the fourth quarter.

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