Oilers' defense puts up stop sign, turns corner Second-and-one stand is lift to a down season

October 12, 1998|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,SUN STAFF

The Incredible Folding Franchise wasn't what the Oilers had in mind when they said they wanted to forge a new identity.

From Houston to Memphis and now Nashville, coach Jeff Fisher's team had been a model of mediocrity and worse. Second-half swoons had contributed to a shrug of a welcome in Music City USA, where the average crowd in the Oilers' first two home games this year was less than 38,000.

The Oilers have had to stoop to a beanie-baby giveaway to boost interest in next week's visit by the Cincinnati Bengals, but they could wind up with a team worth watching. After three straight losses in which it blew halftime leads, Tennessee stopped beating itself and scored a 12-8 win over the Ravens.

Fact is, the Oilers (2-3) thought they should have handled the Ravens a lot easier than they did. "Every week after we came out and lost, we said let's draw the line right here," defensive end Kenny Holmes said. "Today, we finally did."

What interest there is in the Oilers centers on majestic running back Eddie George and mercurial quarterback Steve McNair.

George broke out of a slump with 121 yards on 30 carries, but other than a 15-yard run midway in the fourth quarter, his 15 other second-half carries netted 12 yards. McNair? He came in with the worst second-half efficiency rating in the AFC, and after the break he directed the Oilers' attack to a single score, a field goal.

The dominant unit was the Oilers' defense, which limited the Ravens' offense to two field goals. Baltimore's only third-down conversion came in the final minute, and Tennessee's best stop came courtesy of Holmes with less than nine minutes to go.

The Ravens had a second-and-one at the Oilers' 41, and stopped there. Three straight runs by Priest Holmes gained zilch, and the fourth-down stuff by Tennessee's Holmes was a spark the Oilers have been waiting for all year.

"In the third and fourth quarters, on any defense, you need one big play to turn the tables a little bit," said Holmes, a second-year man out of Miami. "The play was going away from me, but when he [Holmes] cut back, I was in the right place at the right time.

"The other team has been the one that has come up with the one big play that's killed us, but we didn't let that happen today."

It was the first win after a bye week since 1993 for the rusty Oilers, who overcame 141 yards in penalties. It was appropriate that the game's only touchdown came on a broken play.

McNair's 40-yard run late in the first quarter wasn't the result of a naked bootleg, rather an Oilers blunder that turned sweet. On third-and-two, the fourth-year pro was supposed to hand off to George. He didn't, escaped Rob Burnett and improvised his way right into the end zone.

"We had two plays called in the huddle, and I went with the one that I thought was the best," said McNair, who has 187 career rushing yards against the Ravens, his high against an opponent. "I made the check, but I wasn't on the same page as everyone else. I was able to make something out of it, and that's what counts."

The Oilers got to the Ravens' 3-, 27- and 24-yard line in the second quarter, and only had three points to show for it. McNair guided them to just 126 yards in the second half, but it was enough.

"Twelve points is enough to win," NcNair said, "when your defense plays as well as ours did."

Pub Date: 10/12/98

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