Lewis, 85-90 percent back, 'holds his own' Middle linebacker returns and records nine tackles, but admits to limitations

October 19, 1998|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF Sun staff writer Vito Stellino contributed to this article.

PITTSBURGH -- He did not resemble the dominating presence he has spent more than two seasons establishing in the NFL, but the Ravens will take whatever they can get from middle linebacker Ray Lewis. And the third-year Pro Bowl player gave them plenty yesterday.

Four weeks ago, Lewis was the picture of pain on the field at Jacksonville's Alltel Stadium, where he suffered a dislocated left elbow. And after missing only two full games with the injury, Lewis was back at the helm, wounded and all.

Lewis tied for the team lead with nine tackes, five solo. By his own admission, though, this was not the typical, mad-dashing, sideline-to-sideline tackling machine the Ravens have come to expect.

"It was hard. A lot of times I tried to reach out [and tackle opponents] and I know I wasn't my old self when I reached out," Lewis said. "But it feels good. I hope I'll be a hundred percent next week."

Several times during yesterday's 16-6 loss to Pittsburgh, Lewis shook the elbow after making a play, indicating he was in discomfort. Defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis figured Lewis performed at about "85 to 90 percent" of his capability.

"Ray probably held his own. He didn't finish the play sometimes," Marvin Lewis said. "A couple of times, I yelled at him [to see if he was physically fine], and he said he was OK. He's obviously a calming factor in there for us.

"I'm sure [the elbow] is hurting him some. He means so much, he has such a great career ahead of him, and he gave everything he could [rehabilitating the injury] to get back. I'm sure he'll be sore tomorrow, but he'll be OK next week."

Starks gets lesson

Life on the corner can be a lonely way to make a living in the NFL, as rookie Duane Starks found out during the most painful sequence in an otherwise stellar defensive effort by the Ravens.

On the third play of the third quarter, Pittsburgh wide receiver Charles Johnson caught a 55-yard touchdown reception from Kordell Stewart, after Johnson left Starks standing still along the right sideline. It marked the Steelers' longest completion of the season, and the play left Starks griping.

"At the corner, stuff happens," said Starks, who was reduced to a spectator on the play. "[Johnson] grabbed me. When he came off the ball, he just ran straight at me and grabbed me and took me down. He got away with it and got open."

Johnson's response was glib, as he made a popular reference to the movie, "The Lion King."

"Hakuna Matata [no worries]," he said.

Marvin Lewis tipped his hat to Johnson, and added Starks should expect more of the same physical play throughout his career.

"That guy wanted it," Lewis said of Johnson. "And that's part of football. That's what playing cornerback is all about."

To his credit, Starks rebounded on the opening play of the fourth quarter by diving in front of Johnson on a slant-in to intercept Stewart at the Ravens' 18.

Specialists rebound

While the Ravens' offense continues to sputter, at least their specialists have straightened out their games in recent weeks.

Kyle Richardson continued his fine season, continually negating the Ravens' stagnant offense by re-establishing good field position for the defense. Richardson averaged 47.7 yards on six punts. Three times, he pinned the Steelers inside their 20. And on his lone touchback, the Ravens nearly downed the ball at the 1.

Remember kicker Matt Stover's 2-for-5 performance on field-goal attempts in Week 1? Forget about it. Stover, who was perfect from 40 and 41 yards yesterday, has hit eight of his past nine attempts. Two of his kickoffs went deep into the Pittsburgh end zone to force touchbacks. And on David Dunn's 41-yard kickoff return to open the second half, Stover saved a touchdown with a nice tackle.

Stover said the combination of himself, snapper Brian Kinchen and Richardson as the holder have settled into a comfort zone. On his first field goal, Richardson adjusted deftly to Kinchen's low snap.

"With 10 minutes to go [and the Ravens trailing 10-6], I was thinking all we needed were two field goals to win it. The offense was moving the ball well enough," Stover said. "At least I know I've got my thing going and we can get some points that way."

Lewis checked on returns

The Ravens were determined to get the ball to wide receiver Jermaine Lewis. For the most part, they came through, as Lewis hauled in six receptions for 62 yards. He came up short in the return game, however, partly because Josh Miller did an effective job of limiting his opportunities with well-placed punts.

Lewis also was inserted into the kickoff return scheme, after Jay Graham suffered a knee strain during pre-game warm-ups.

With 3: 09 left and the Steelers having taken a 13-6 lead, Lewis fumbled away any chance the Ravens had at a comeback.

"I was trying to make a play, trying to win the game," Lewis said.

Jackson limited

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