To err all too familiar to special teams Mack's runback, penalties are obstacles to overcome among rash of breakdowns

Ravens Notebook

September 28, 1998|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

The Ravens' special teams have gained quite a reputation through the season's first month. At their present rate, they could become laughingstocks around the league.

Breakdowns were the order of the night against the Bengals.

Fans probably thought they were witnessing a replay of last year's come-from-ahead, 45-34 loss to Pittsburgh at home. Remember Will Blackwell's 97-yard punt return to open the second half? That play kick-started the Steelers on a comeback from a 24-7 halftime deficit.

Last night, the second half began with Tremain Mack doing a Blackwell impression, by slicing through the Ravens' kickoff coverage team for a 97-yard return to cut the Ravens' lead to 21-17. And to think the Ravens were leading the NFL in kickoff coverage -- allowing only 13.6 yards per return -- before last night.

Thank goodness for Jermaine Lewis, who returned the favor with an 87-yard punt return six minutes later to extend the Ravens' lead to 28-17.

Special teams penalties continued to dog the Ravens. With 6: 26 left in the first quarter, Kenyon Cotton committed an unsportsmanlike conduct infraction on the Bengals' first punt, pushing the Ravens back to their own 18. On Cincinnati's third punt, Patrick Johnson -- out for the previous two games with a hamstring injury -- announced his return unceremoniously by getting called for the same foul. That forced the Ravens to begin their ensuing possession at their own 19.

John Williams produced the next blooper a few minutes later on the Ravens' punt coverage team, when he interfered with Bengals return man Damon Gibson. That 15-yard call gave the Bengals a first down at the Baltimore 49, and it sparked Cincinnati to its first score of the night.

"On special teams we got the big play, but we had a lot of penalties again," Ravens coach Ted Marchibroda said. "We can't seem to make a difference there."

Hitting the wall

Although he had enjoyed a solid regular season in his first year as a starting cornerback, DeRon Jenkins hit a bit of a wall for the Ravens last night.

Going up against Cincinnati receiver Carl Pickens, Jenkins had his hands full. Twice in the first half, Jenkins committed pass interference penalties on Pickens, and each time the miscue cost the Ravens points.

With about six minutes to play in the first half, Jenkins interfered with Pickens on a fourth-and-four at the Ravens' 33, giving the Bengals a first down at the Baltimore 26. Defensive tackle James Jones helped Jenkins by sacking quarterback Neil O'Donnell for an eight-yard loss two plays later but Cincinnati still capitalized by scoring its first points on a 48-yard field goal by Doug Pelfrey with 4: 45 left. That pulled Cincinnati to within 21-3.

Jenkins was at it again in the half's closing seconds. After the Bengals had recovered an Eric Zeier fumble at the Ravens' 34 with 2: 35 left, Cincinnati drove to the Ravens' 6, where it faced a fourth-and-two with 25 seconds left. O'Donnell went to Pickens on a fade route in the left corner of the end zone, where Jenkins drew another interference call, giving the Bengals a first-and-goal at the 1. Pickens caught a touchdown pass on the next play to pull the Bengals to within 21-10 at halftime.

The finishing touch came with 11: 18 left in the fourth quarter, when Pickens abused Jenkins on a fly pattern. After Jenkins fell down, Pickens hauled in a Jeff Blake pass and walked into the end zone to complete a 67-yard score. That cut the Ravens' lead to 28-24.

Pickens finished with seven catches for 120 yards.

"DeRon had one of those games," Marchibroda said. "He's played excellent football to this point, and he's in the National Football League, and he's going to have days like that. The important thing is how he bounces back next week."

Sharper wakes up

Did outside linebacker Jamie Sharper get the message or what? Four days after getting blasted publicly by teammate Ray Lewis for his lackadaisical play, Sharper responded with an inspired effort.

He finished with a team-high 10 tackles, eight solo and a pass defense.

Meanwhile, middle linebacker Tyrus McCloud, stepping in for the injured Ray Lewis, had five solo tackles, but was not much of a factor.

McCrary back to work

Defensive end Michael McCrary was shut out a week ago in his pursuit of a sack, which is nothing new against a tackle like Jacksonville's Tony Boselli.

McCrary was back to business last night against Bengals left tackle Kevin Sargent, collecting sacks on back-to-back plays late in the third quarter. On his first sack, McCrary teamed up with Peter Boulware to knock O'Donnell out of the game. On the next play, McCrary dropped Jeff Blake for an eight-yard loss to the Ravens' 34.

The Bengals, down 28-17 at the time, settled for a botched, 52-yard field-goal attempt.

Living large

Long plays were a big part of last night's Ravens-Bengals game. A look at some of them:

97 yards, Bengals: Tremain Mack kickoff return for touchdown in third quarter.

87 yards, Ravens: Jermaine Lewis punt return for touchdown in third quarter.

73 yards, Ravens: Eric Zeier-to-Lewis touchdown in second quarter.

67 yards, Bengals: Jeff Blake-to-Carl Pickens touchdown in fourth quarter.

47 yards, Ravens: Priest Holmes run in third quarter.

40 yards, Ravens: Zeier-to-Michael Jackson pass in fourth quarter.

Pub Date: 9/28/98

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