A state-of-the-art debut except on football field Steelers 20, Ravens 13

From The Sidelines

September 07, 1998|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,SUN STAFF

Once upon a time, Baltimore football fans were able to cheer for a Rembrandt of a football team playing in a stadium with all the charm of an old garage.

The Baltimore football fans of this generation have a Louvre of a football stadium with a paint-by-the-numbers football team.

The Ravens showed in their embarrassing 20-13 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers yesterday that good stadiums don't necessarily make good football teams.

Coming off a 4-0 preseason, the Ravens hoped they could be a surprise team this year.

Instead, with reporters from Boston to San Diego on hand to watch the new Ravens, they were even worse than the Same Old Ravens.

What was particularly frustrating is that the Steelers played their usual lackluster opener (they were 2-4 under Cowher before yesterday). "The Bus," Jerome Bettis, had a flat tire, and Kordell Stewart was erratic.

It didn't make much difference because the Ravens couldn't execute the most basic of football plays. They jumped offside on third downs, couldn't make long snaps, dropped passes, tripped over their feet, wasted timeouts and missed three field-goal attempts.

The two players who were supposed to lead their resurgence, Jim Harbaugh and Rod Woodson, didn't help much. Harbaugh went out with a chipped bone in his finger in the second quarter and Woodson looked like an old cornerback as he went out with back spasms after hitting Bettis too often. Woodson also dropped what could have been an interception for a touchdown in the first quarter.

Even coach Ted Marchibroda, who's usually Mr. Optimistic, seemed like a beaten man when it was over. A year ago, after a one-point loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars in the opener, he was feisty, telling the reporters these weren't the Same Old Ravens.

This time, he seemed to be having trouble keeping his composure as he said how much this one hurt.

The only consolation for the Ravens is that they can't possibly be this bad. Can they?

Highlights and lowlights of a nightmarish opener at their new stadium:

Turning point: On a third-and-one play at the Steelers' 19 in the second quarter, Wally Williams jumped offside, setting up a third-and-six play. That led to a Carnell Lake blitz that knocked Harbaugh out of the game. Although Eric Zeier had some good stats, the loss of the starting quarterback was a bad omen. Especially when they needed Capt. Comeback to lead a comeback in the second half.

Deja vu all over again: With two minutes left in the first half, the Ravens had a third-and-two at their 47. Williams again jumped offside to ruin that drive.

Bad snaps: Harper Le Bel makes his living as a long snapper and the Ravens kept him on the roster to fill in for Brian Kinchen, who couldn't snap because of a torn tendon in his thumb. But he had trouble all day, notably a high snap that caused Matt Stover to stop and then miss a 42-yarder and a one-hopper past punter Kyle Richardson that set up the Steelers' first touchdown.

Gamble: The Ravens picked Richardson as their punter over Greg Montgomery even though Richardson punted just 19 times last year in his first year in the NFL for Miami and Seattle and had two blocked. He averaged 47.8 yards on four punts, but when Le Bel misfired on the third-quarter snap, Richardson not only let it go through his legs, but also kicked it when he turned around. If he'd been able to knock it to the ground, he could have gotten the punt off, because the Steelers had the return on and didn't rush him.

Harbaugh file: Harbaugh suffered a chipped bone on his right ring finger. Harbaugh said he's a quick healer and hopes to play next Sunday. But nobody really knows how soon he'll be ready, and he'll have a CT scan today. Even a jammed finger usually swells up for a couple of days, and it'll be no surprise if Harbaugh isn't ready to go against the Jets next week. For a quarterback, a bad index finger is a major injury.

Big D: The Ravens' defense played well enough to win, holding "The Bus," Jerome Bettis, to just 41 yards on a day Kordell Stewart was off-target much of the day. But the good effort was wasted.

Leaper: Rookie cornerback Duane Starks is only 5 feet 10, but it didn't take him long to prove he plays taller than that. Starks leaped high into the air to pull down the first regular-season interception in the new stadium. Starks then got to show off his speed in the fourth quarter when he caught Richard Huntley from behind and punched the ball out of his arms not only to save a touchdown, but also to give the ball back to the Ravens on a touchback.

Slip: On a third-and-five play at the Steelers' 27 in the first quarter, Priest Holmes had a shot for a possible touchdown on a sweep, but he tripped over his own feet and fell to the ground. The Ravens had to settle for a field goal.

First kickoff: The first kickoff in the new stadium was anticlimactic. Stover's kick went out of bounds, giving the Steelers good field position on the 40 to help set up a field goal.

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