Something old and new, Ravens can build on 2-2, RAVENS 31, BENGALS 24

From The Sidelines

September 28, 1998|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,SUN STAFF

The Ravens got something old and something new to beat the Cincinnati Bengals last night.

The old: The exciting play of Jermaine Lewis, who returned a punt 87 yards for a touchdown in the third period after catching a 73-yard touchdown pass from Eric Zeier in the second period.

The new: A power running game that was supposed to be their trademark this year, but had sputtered in the first three games.

With Priest Holmes adding the burst they hadn't gotten from either Errict Rhett or Jay Graham and the offensive line finally manhandling an opponent the way they were supposed to this year, the Ravens won the battle in the trenches in a 31-24 victory that evened their record at 2-2.

When they jumped to a 21-0 lead in the second period, it looked like this might be a rout.

But the Ravens, being the Ravens, let the Bengals cut the deficit to 21-17 in the third period.

That brought back memories of the way they blew a 21-3 lead to Cincinnati two years ago and the way they blew a 21-0 lead to Pittsburgh last year when the Steelers ran the second-half kickoff back for a touchdown. But this time, Lewis' punt return gave the Ravens a cushion.

It's not a coincidence that Lewis returned a punt 69 yards for a touchdown in their other victory this year, a 24-10 triumph over the New York Jets.

Pound for pound, the 172-pound Lewis may be the most valuable player in the league. The first eight times he touched the ball, he gained 238 yards, including a 73-yard touchdown play when Artrell Hawkins fell down trying to cover Lewis on a stop-and-go play.

Holmes' 173-yard rushing day was the most significant aspect of the game.

When the Ravens junked the three wide-receiver offense they used their first two seasons and signed Roosevelt Potts to be their fullback in a two-back offense, they were supposed to run the ball and control the clock behind their big offensive line.

On the field, though, it didn't work the way the Ravens' brain trust drew it up. The offensive line didn't exactly dominate the line of scrimmage and neither Rhett nor Graham found many holes. The Ravens didn't have a rusher gain more than 72 yards while going 1-2 in the first three games.

But Holmes -- helped by better blocking by the line -- added that dimension to the Ravens' offense.

On top of that, Zeier gave the Ravens a passing threat to go with the running game and the Ravens found themselves a new backfield as they head into the bye week.

Now they'll find out how far it can carry them.

Highlights and lowlights of the Ravens' first home win and first division win this season:

Best move: When coach Ted Marchibroda announced Wednesday that Holmes would start at running back, it had the (( look of a panic move by a lame-duck coach in the final year of his contract. Holmes sat out his junior year at Texas, gained only 324 yards his senior year and was an undrafted free agent last year. But the move turned out to have the look of genius. He put the finishing touch on the game by running for 10 yards on a third-and-seven play with just over a minute left that allowed the Ravens to run out the clock.

Setting the tone: On the Ravens' first offensive play, Zeier threw a 16-yard pass to Michael Jackson that showed the Ravens were ready to throw the ball downfield and the Bengals couldn't just stack the defense against the run.

Long drives: On their first two possessions, the Ravens marched 80 yards in 13 plays and 82 yards in nine plays to take a 14-0 lead. It showed what the Ravens can do when they have their offense kicking.

Zeier file: The new No. 1 quarterback got off to a fast start, completing six of seven passes on the first two drives to complement Holmes' running. It was a solid effort as he was 15-for-20 for 254 yards and didn't throw an interception. In the past eight games over two seasons, he has 11 touchdown

passes and one interception. He's also started four of those games and is 3-1.

Dangerous strategy: The Bengals kept punting to Lewis. They thought their punter, Lee Johnson, had enough hang time for coverage. But they got burned in the third period with the help of good blocks by Duane Starks and Tyrell Peters.

Game saver: On fourth-and-one at the Ravens' 32, Rod Woodson, who had been shaken up on the previous play, batted the pass away that Jeff Blake threw to Darnay Scott. It was hard to figure why Blake didn't throw to Carl Pickens, who had beaten DeRon Jenkins on play after play.

Sackmeister: Michael McCrary, upset at being blanked by Jacksonville's Tony Boselli last week, sacked Neil O'Donnell and Jeff Blake on consecutive plays late in the third period. He has 25 sacks in his past 26 games. The O'Donnell sack knocked the quarterback out of the game.

Heady play: When Bengals holder Lee Johnson fumbled a snap on a field-goal attempt late in the third period, he has the presence of mind to punt the ball and it rolled into the end zone for a touchback.

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