Woodson picks spots to excel Veteran cornerback jolts Jets with 2 interceptions

September 14, 1998|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

He lacks the blazing speed that marked his best days in the NFL, yet while his legs have slowed over the years, Rod Woodson has kept up with the league's youngsters by using the guile and knowledge that come with playing 12 seasons at the game's highest level.

The aging Woodson introduced himself to up-and-coming quarterback Glenn Foley yesterday in ways the Jets' passer of the future won't soon forget.

"He's unorthodox. He doesn't always play textbook defense," Foley said of Woodson, whose two interceptions, the second of which he returned 60 yards for a fourth-quarter touchdown, doomed the Jets. "You know when you throw at [Woodson] all day, he's going to get a couple."

Woodson warmed up early in the third quarter, when he lay in wait for Foley, watched him lock onto Keyshawn Johnson, then stepped in front of Johnson for the interception. His 16-yard return set up a 29-yard field goal by Matt Stover that gave the Ravens a 17-7 lead with 10: 16 left.

Woodson's next moment may have helped turn around the Ravens' season. It surely ranks as a decisive moment in their 24-10 victory.

With just under nine minutes to play and the Ravens leading 17-10, the Jets had taken over at the Ravens' 47, after a fumble by fullback Roosevelt Potts -- the Ravens' first turnover of the season. On third-and-three, there was Woodson, picking off Foley in front of the Baltimore bench, then cruising down the left sideline untouched for a 60-yard return and the game-clinching touchdown.

"You talk about wily veterans Rod fits into that group," coach Ted Marchibroda said. "I'm not sure we've had plays like that since I've been here. You could see how much he means to our ballclub."

His second interception was vintage Woodson. As the play unfolded, Woodson was covering receiver Wayne Chrebet in the slot. Then, as fullback Jerald Sowell slid into the right flat, where he was covered closely by Ray Lewis, Woodson read Foley's eyes, and stepped toward Sowell as Foley cocked his right arm.

And, unlike the season-opening loss to Pittsburgh, when he dropped a similar gift by quarterback Kordell Stewart, Woodson was off, gliding past a cheering Ravens bench with the play of the day. Woodson finished the sequence by turning around inside the 10 and backing into the end zone, where he took a knee and was mobbed by his teammates.

"I was trying to see if we had any flags. Fortunately, everything worked out," said Woodson, who left last week's game with back spasms that reduced his practice time this week. "Unfortunately, I dropped the ball last week. Good players are consistent at making the plays."

Woodson did more than bait the quarterback. His busy afternoon included eight solo tackles, three assists and two pass deflections. He admittedly did not play up to par in the first half, when Foley picked apart the secondary for 171 passing yards. In the third quarter, Woodson also bit on a Dedric Ward fake that led to a pass-interference call on safety Corey Harris. That 39-yard gain led to a Jets field goal that sliced the Baltimore lead to 17-10.

"I played sloppy and wasn't fundamentally sound in the first half," Woodson said. "But I've been in situations for 12 years. Foley is a good quarterback. He made some great plays in the first half. We did a better job of anticipating in the second half."

The Ravens anticipated good things from Woodson, 33, when they signed him in February to a four-year contract that included a $3 million bonus. The Ravens pulled the trigger despite questions about Woodson's effectiveness and durability. He missed the entire 1995 season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament, was released by Pittsburgh in 1996 -- after 10 seasons there -- and is now with his third team in three seasons.

Woodson responded yesterday with the seventh multiple-interception game of his career, including his sixth returned for a touchdown. That marked his first trip to the end zone since he did it to the Ravens two years ago in Pittsburgh. Woodson, headed for the Hall of Fame, has 43 career interceptions.

"People say he's not as fast, but he's still Rod Woodson and he's been around for a long time," middle linebacker Lewis said. "He's been to seven Pro Bowls, he's seen a lot and he's done a lot of things no one else has ever done."

Pub Date: 9/14/98

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