In Harbaugh, Ravens have more than wing, prayer

August 16, 1998|By KEN ROSENTHAL

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- He was more solid than spectacular, more efficient than dominant. Yes, it was only a preseason game. But Jim Harbaugh was all the things Vinny Testaverde never was, and never will be.

The Ravens won't say it -- they like Vinny too much -- but maybe now Bill Parcells will figure out what everyone in Baltimore, Tampa Bay and Cleveland already knew. Testaverde isn't a winning quarterback. Glenn Foley might not be either, but that's Parcells' problem.

Harbaugh was the best quarterback on the field last night. Eric Zeier was the second best. Wally Richardson was the third best, and it was the former NFL Europe player's first appearance in North America.

Same old Ravens? Hardly.

Same old Vinny? So far.

Harbaugh and Zeier combined to complete 15 of 19 passes for 219 yards and two touchdowns in the Ravens' 33-0 victory over the New York Jets. Testaverde, Foley and Chuck Clements combined to complete 12 of 30 passes for 96 yards with three interceptions.

No one should get carried away by any of this -- the Ravens went 3-1 in their first preseason, only to finish 4-12; 0-4 in their second preseason, only to start 3-1.

Still, it's significant that the players already believe in Harbaugh.

"He gives us a vocal leader, intensity," tight end Eric Green said. "I'm not saying that Vinny didn't have any. It's just intangible things, things you can't see. The confidence. You can see it in his eyes. He wants to win. He wants to do well every play."

Testaverde, of course, had the same desire, but he wasn't as effective conveying it to his teammates. Harbaugh is a more infectious player. If he had Testaverde's physical ability, he'd be John Elway.

"Hopefully, we'll get some consistency," left tackle Jonathan Ogden said. "I love Vinny, but we always just had bad luck. Hopefully with Jim we can turn things around.

"I wish Vinny the best of luck. I hope he becomes the starter, and ends up taking them to the playoffs. But at the same time, we needed a little spark. Hopefully, Jim can provide it."

Again, it's too early to pass judgment -- the outcome could be just the opposite when the Ravens and Jets meet in Week 2 of the regular season. But it's not too early to understand the value of Harbaugh, especially in a two-back offense.

Ogden said the change in schemes is more meaningful than the change in quarterbacks -- a one-back offense runs predominantly to the strong side, allowing defenses to slant in that direction. Testaverde's defenders would argue that he could win in this system; Parcells might, too.

Yet, the difference with Harbaugh is noticeable. Ravens coach Ted Marchibroda asked him to make two big throws last night, and he completed both. The first was a 31-yard touchdown pass to Lewis on a fly pattern. The second was a 26-yard completion to Floyd Turner over the middle to set up a field goal.

Harbaugh completed nine of 12 passes for 126 yards, no interceptions, no fumbles, no Vinny-esque meltdowns. He also ran the two-minute drill effectively, marching the Ravens 64 yards for a field goal at the end of the first half. Clock management? The Ravens? It hasn't been one of their strengths.

"They outplayed us in every phase. Obviously, they're a lot further along than we are," Parcells said. "We are immature as a team. Sometimes you need something like this to put you back in reality."

Parcells created a stir by naming Testaverde the starter for this game, and now he must decide who will start Thursday against the New York Giants. The Jets don't have a quarterback controversy; they've got a quarterback dilemma. Maybe they should have kept Neil O'Donnell.

Foley played worse than Testaverde against the Ravens' second-team defense, completing only five of 15 passes for 37 yards with two interceptions. Testaverde completed six of 10 passes for 54 yards, but Parcells judges his quarterbacks by how often they get in the end zone. In five possessions, Testaverde failed to put up points.

He was sacked three times -- the Jets played without left tackle Jumbo Elliott and started rookie Jason Fabini at right tackle. Harbaugh, though, was in a similar predicament. Sixty percent of his starting offensive line was out for much of the first half, yet he left the field leading 20-0.

"We've got a long way to go," Harbaugh kept saying afterward, and he's right. Still, those who remember him from Indianapolis expect him only to get better, the more familiar he gets with the personnel, the more familiar he gets with the offense.

"He likes the pressure. He likes being under the gun. He likes when it's all him and he has to make every play," defensive tackle Tony Siragusa said. "He's a guy you want in your corner. He'll be a leader out there, whether they like it or not."

Turner agreed.

"I feel with Harbaugh, you're always in the ballgame," the wide receiver said. "He always gives you 120 or 130 percent, from beginning to end. I know he's going to be there. Even if we're 30 points behind in the third and fourth quarter, he's going to be in the game."

Likes pressure. Provides vocal leadership. Keeps his team in the game. No one ever said such things about Vinny Testaverde, but the Ravens don't need to criticize their old friend. They've got a better quarterback now. They've got Jim Harbaugh.

Pub Date: 8/16/98

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