Unlike past, Ravens find way to win, miss 0-2 hole

From The Sidelines

September 14, 1998|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,SUN STAFF

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Cornerback Rod Woodson used the word sloppy to describe the Ravens' play yesterday.

Woodson, who intercepted two passes and ran one back for a touchdown, said they played better against the Pittsburgh Steelers last week than they did against the New York Jets.

Yet there was one key difference. This time, the Ravens, who have virtually turned finding a way to lose into an art form, found a way to win.

That was the most significant thing about the 24-10 victory.

This isn't diving or figure skating, where there are points for form. The only things that count are W's and L's.

Just a year ago, they lost in overtime by a field goal to the Jets. This time, they came in as 5 1/2 -point underdogs and won by 14.

It's too early to tell if this was a one-game showing or the start of a turnaround, but it's one for the Ravens to savor. Even though it's the third straight year they're 1-1, the victory kept them from digging an 0-2 hole going to Jacksonville. It also means they can be no worse than 1-2 when they come back home for a Sunday night game against the Cincinnati Bengals in two weeks.

The Ravens' much-maligned secondary came up with three interceptions. The Ravens combined the interceptions with a good relief job by quarterback Eric Zeier, a punt return for a touchdown by Jermaine Lewis and a brilliant goal-line stand.

They also did it with a beat-up team. Two receivers -- Patrick Johnson and James Roe -- were inactive with hamstring injuries, quarterback Jim Harbaugh was ailing and ineffective, Ray Lewis barely made it out for the second half because of a sore hamstring, Jermaine Lewis had a sore ankle and Kim Herring went out with a dislocated shoulder.

They also outguessed Jets defensive coordinator Bill Belichick, the former Cleveland Browns coach who takes games against his old franchise personally.

After the Ravens took over at their 1-yard line after a sterling goal-line stand, Zeier came in and Belichick played single coverage against both outside receivers. It was a perfect defense for a gamble and Zeier threw a 39-yard pass to Michael Jackson, who beat Otis Smith. It started a 99-yard touchdown drive and may turn out to be the play of the year for the Ravens.

The highlights and lowlights:

Most spectacular play: Jermaine Lewis never expected the Jets to punt to him in the middle of the field, especially after he returned a punt 97 yards for a touchdown against them in a preseason game last month. But veteran Brian Hansen, just signed as the Jets' punter, made that mistake on his second punt and paid for it. The Ravens had a left return on, but Lewis saw an opening in the middle, made a couple of nifty moves, got a good block from Priest Holmes and went 69 yards.

Turning point: The Jets had marched 83 yards for one touchdown and had marched 88 yards on their next drive to the Ravens' 3 where they had first down late in the second quarter. The Jets called on Curtis Martin four times and the Ravens stuffed him all four downs. The Jets not only gambled for it on fourth down instead of kicking a field goal, but they didn't try a rollout or a high pass to Keyshawn Johnson, who had already out-jumped DeRon Jenkins for a touchdown, on second or third down. This was not one of coach Bill Parcells' best plays.

Zeier file: Zeier came off the bench and passed for 173 yards and a touchdown to win the starting job for next week's game. At least he did to this sideline observer. Coach Ted Marchibroda said he has to think about it, but what's there to think about? Harbaugh is obviously injured. He had his elbow wrapped in ice and was holding his ring finger in a cup of ice after the game.

Ailing: Marchibroda stuck with Harbaugh too long. He bobbled two snaps and admitted to making a pair of bad throws. Harbaugh said he's played some of his best games when he's hurt. But he was probably reluctant to take himself out because he got a lot of unfair heat last year when he pulled himself in the opener in Indianapolis when he was exhausted by the Miami pass rush. Marchibroda pulled him just in time, though, because Harbaugh probably wouldn't have made that 39-yard throw that Zeier did on his first play.

Strategy: When the Jets recovered a fumble at the Ravens' 47 with 10: 02 left, trailing 17-10, the Ravens sent in their nickel defense. They expected the Jets to throw. The Jets tried to fool the Ravens by running Martin twice. They held Martin to 3 and 4 yards. That set up the third-and-three play when Glenn Foley made a terrible throw to running back Jerald Sowell, who was covered by Ray Lewis. Woodson, covering Wayne Chrebet, saw Foley looking at Sowell and made the interception that wrapped up the game.

Oops: Jonathan Ogden, the Ravens' best player, was called twice for holding in the first half.

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