In a snap, Ravens' kicking game fails Le Bel shoulders blame for missed FGs, non-punt

September 07, 1998|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

Snap the ball. Hold the ball. Kick the ball.

It sounds easy enough, but the Ravens managed to turn those chores into something akin to rocket science yesterday.

Forget the dropped touchdown pass by Jermaine Lewis, the dropped interception by Rod Woodson.

The lasting image of the Ravens' 20-13, season-opening, stadium-opening loss to Pittsburgh will be that of punter Kyle Richardson chasing after Harper Le Bel's errant snap, a crazy play that ended with Richardson tackled on the Ravens' 5-yard line.

Three plays later, a 6-3 deficit had grown to 13-3.

The play also turned the spotlight on Le Bel, the unlikeliest of goats. With the thumb injury suffered by veteran tight end/snapper Brian Kinchen, Le Bel seemed like an ideal replacement. After all, long snapping is what has kept him in the NFL for 10 seasons. Listed as a tight end, Le Bel has one career catch for 9 yards.

"When I make a mistake and something bad happens, that's usually the time when I'm interviewed," Le Bel said. "Nobody is going to be talking to [Pittsburgh snapper Mark] Rodenhauser tonight. He played well and he knows it."

The Ravens' specialists performed poorly, and they know it.

Kicker Matt Stover started it off with a bad omen. He shanked the opening kickoff out of bounds, giving the Steelers possession at their own 40. That generous field position helped Pittsburgh drive to an early 3-0 lead.

Stover's problems were just beginning. After a 41-yard field goal, he went on to miss his next three attempts.

The fault didn't lie solely with Stover. Le Bel's snaps on the first two were shaky. On the first one, Richardson had to dig the snap out of the dirt. On the second miss, Richardson had to twist his body halfway around to catch the ball. Stover stopped, then restarted his momentum forward before striking the ball awkwardly.

"Am I going to say the snap or the hold was off? No. Could I say the timing was off? Sure," said Stover, who chose not to single out his new snapper or new holder. "You've got to have 1-2-3 timing. When you're out on the 42 or the 45, everything has to be just right."

Stover said he could recall only one other game in his nine-year career in which he had missed three field-goal attempts.

"I don't care what the situation is. I've got to put those nine points on the board," Stover said.

Said Le Bel: "I've played in many games when I've had good snaps and everything went well. That's the reason I've been doing this for so long. You have one snap to get it right. A lot of guys are upset with me and rightly so. I'll shoulder the burden. Murphy's Law was definitely in effect today."

It was never more evident than with three minutes left in the third quarter. The Ravens were punting from their own 36, down 6-3. Le Bel's snap bounced 2 yards in front of Richardson, and the fun began.

First, the ball went between Richardson's legs, and rolled about 10 yards behind him. As Richardson chased it, he failed to realize the Steelers had set up a return and did not rush anyone. In his rush, he kicked the ball farther toward his end zone. With the Steelers now in hot pursuit, Richardson, instead of tossing the ball out of the end zone and taking a safety, fell on the ball at the 5.

"It was a low snap, and I should have had it. I just misplayed the hop," said Richardson, who said he wished he had done a better job of controlling Le Bel's shaky field-goal snaps. "You envision the best game of your life every time. I didn't envision this."

Le Bel hinted he wouldn't be surprised if the Ravens cut him, but Marchibroda shook his head at the suggestion. For one, Kinchen isn't ready to return.

As Pittsburgh coach Bill Cowher said, "We kept a kid [Rodenhauser] to do one thing, take care of long snaps. Go over to Baltimore and ask them, and they'd agree. You can't overestimate the importance of a guy who can keep those things clean."

Pub Date: 9/07/98

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