1997 recap

December 23, 1997|By Mike Preston and Gary Lambrecht

Plays of the Year

In the first quarter of the first Pittsburgh game, special teams ace Bennie Thompson had his helmet knocked off at the Steelers' 45, but ran 20 more yards through a wedge to make the tackle on Mike Adams at the 25-yard line. Thompson then got up and ran into the end zone to work the crowd.

If there is one play quarterback Vinny Testaverde will be remembered for in Baltimore, it was throwing a pass from off his knees after slipping. The pass was intended for slot receiver Jermaine Lewis in the third quarter against the Jets. Cornerback Otis Smith picked it off to kill the drive.

"As soon as it left my hands, I thought of Brett Favre and the one he threw like that earlier in the season," Testaverde said. "Big mistake."

Turning point

The Ravens were 3-2 and playing at home heading into their first game against Pittsburgh. If the Ravens had beaten the Steelers, they would have gone into the bye week 4-2. They jumped to a 21-0 lead and led 24-7 at the half, but melted down in the second half and lost, 42-34. The Ravens went on to lose three of their next four and never recovered.

Strange story

On July 29, second-year linebacker Ray Lewis was flown by helicopter to the Maryland Shock Trauma Center for a possible serious neck injury after colliding with rookie fullback Kenyon Cotton in practice.

It brought back bad memories for Cotton. During his sophomore year at Minden (La.) High, Cotton was playing wide receiver in the school's homecoming game and the town's mayor, Paul Brown, was on hand as part of the sideline chain crew.

Cotton caught a pass near the sideline and was pushed out of bounds, directly into Brown. The mayor flew backward, striking his head on a team bench. He suffered brain damage that incapacitated him until his death from cancer last year.

Sad story

Running back Bam Morris was suspended for the first four games for violating the league's policy on substance abuse.

Most Valuable Player

Ray Lewis, the man in the middle of the Ravens' 4-3 defense, started out as a strong producer and never stopped. Lewis did not miss a start, averaging more than 13 tackles a game to finish with a league-high 205. His speed, enthusiasm and ferocity make him one of the NFL's most promising linebackers. He'll play in a few Pro Bowls before he's done.

Rookie of the Year

Peter Boulware makes this an easy call. He led NFL rookies this season with 11.5 sacks, even though he spent most of the year learning a position he had never played, linebacker. He's a superstar in the making. As Tennessee coach Jeff Fisher said: "In a few years, people are going to be comparing other pass rushers to him."

Top free-agent acquisition

Defensive end Michael McCrary, who was among the team leaders in sacks and tackles.

Unsung hero

Tackle James Jones was a defensive leader, practiced every day and played in every game while also being one of the team's top tacklers.

Up-and-coming stars

Offense: T Orlando Brown, C Wally Williams, WR Jermaine Lewis, WR Derrick Alexander.

Defense: LB Peter Boulware, DE Michael McCrary, LB Ray Lewis.

Comings and goings?

Restricted free agents: DE Mike Frederick, OL Sale Isaia, C Quentin Neujahr, DE Keith Washington, QB Eric Zeier.

Unrestricted free agents: WR Derrick Alexander, CB Eugene Daniel, TE Eric Green, CB Antonio Langham, RB Bam Morris, WR Nate Singleton, DB Bennie Thompson, DE Larry Webster, C Wally Williams.

Top re-signing priorities: Williams, Langham, Webster, Green, Alexander.

Free agents the Ravens may seek: RBs Ricky Watters, Charlie Garner, Dorsey Levens, Edgar Bennett; FB Sam Gash; WRs Yancey Thigpen, Jake Reed, Robert Brooks; CB Tyronne Drakeford; LB Jeff Herrod; S Myron Bell; S Brock Marion.

Pub Date: 12/23/97

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