Instead of big-time opening, Ravens do big-time bungling

September 07, 1998|By Ken Rosenthal

Can't blame Vinny.

Botched snaps, missed field goals, aborted punts, false starts.

Wasted timeouts, untimely stumbles, dropped passes, blown interceptions.

Ladies and gentlemen, your 1998 Baltimore Ravens.

What other team could hold Jerome Bettis to 41 yards rushing and still leave the field hugely disappointed?

Only the Ravens.

What other team could twice intercept Kordell Stewart, limit him to 173 yards passing and still lose, 20-13?

Only the Ravens.

"I don't think we got our butts kicked today," defensive end Mike McCrary said. "We did an excellent job beating ourselves."

There were moments yesterday when the Ravens actually looked ready for the big time, ready to make a statement for the first time in their brief but tortured history.

McCrary had a 15-yard sack. Ray Lewis chased down Stewart from behind. Duane Starks made a spectacular leaping interception, then saved a touchdown by forcing a fumble that led to a touchback, all in his first NFL game.

The Ravens will win if they keep playing this kind of defense. They might have even won yesterday, if their kicking game hadn't been so pathetic.

Stewart underthrew and overthrew. Bettis averaged only 1.8 yards per carry. The Ravens out-gained Pittsburgh, 376 yards to 271.

"We did everything but win," quarterback Jim Harbaugh said.

Indeed, this was the sorriest opening-day performance in Baltimore since the Orioles' 11-0 loss to the Milwaukee Brewers in 1988.

Only one game, the Orioles said that day.

They wound up losing 21 straight.

The Ravens aren't nearly that bad, but for the second straight season, they bungled an ideal opportunity to beat Pittsburgh at home.

There they were, opening their house, handing the Steelers the keys.

Pittsburgh receiver Charles Johnson walked right through the front door, leaping into a sea of Steelers fans after his 20-yard touchdown catch in the fourth quarter.

It was the final embarrassing touch on a day that held such promise, a day that ranked among the most important in the city's sports history.

Steelers fans have a name for the stadium:

Three Rivers East.

The place emptied in the fourth quarter, with the Ravens down 20-3. Their comeback never had a chance -- they burned two timeouts in the third period, and used their final one with 3: 53 left, still trailing by 14 points.

Granted, it might have been different if Rod Woodson had held on to an interception that would have resulted in a first-quarter touchdown.

If Priest Holmes hadn't tripped on a run that might have resulted in another first-quarter score.

If Jermaine Lewis had held on to a certain third-quarter touchdown pass that would have broken the 3-3 halftime tie.

But none of those things happened. Other things happened. Bad things. The kinds of things that have come to define this team.

"I've got a feeling when we watch this game on film, we're going to feel even worse about it," Harbaugh said.

Three missed field-goal tries? A team playing little ball had better feature a strong kicking game.

Two false starts on third-and-short? Inexcusable mistakes from franchise player Wally Williams.

A botched punt that proved the game's turning point? The Steelers never do such things.

The injury to Harbaugh was another stroke of misfortune, but if not for two drops by Lewis, backup Eric Zeier would have thrown for more than 300 yards.

Say this for the Ravens: Their mistakes can be corrected.

Say this, too: They held themselves accountable, which is more than a certain other team in town ever does.

Lewis caught a 64-yard touchdown pass late in the fourth quarter but said, "I didn't do my job."

Kicker Matt Stover said: "I'm paid to get the balls through the uprights no matter what the situation is. I take full blame."

Long snapper Harper Le Bel also fell on his sword.

"I was responsible for a lot of what happened today, and I shoulder that burden," he said.

You can't call them the same, old Ravens, not with a defense this fast, this talented. But you can't call them the new and improved Ravens, not until they prove worthy.

"We're going to get over the hump," McCrary said. "I'm not worried about that. I'm positive this is a better team than last year. It's got more heart. We're not going to let this happen too many more times."

Safety Steven Moore was even more adamant, saying: "This is our year. We're going to have a good season. No finger-pointing. Everyone just needs to play together, look at this, make corrections, just polish up. This is a good football team."

Their fans would love to believe that, but every time they raise their hopes, they end up crushed.

Next week, the Ravens visit the New York Jets, a team that will be jacked for its home opener after losing to San Francisco in overtime.

The week after that, they visit Jacksonville, a team that barely won at Chicago, but is still considered a Super Bowl contender.

If the Ravens are 0-3, it will be their own fault.

What other team could move into a gorgeous new home and screw up the housewarming party?

Only the Ravens.

Pub Date: 9/07/98

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