All signals pointing to Harbaugh Marchibroda leaning toward starting veteran against Jacksonville

Coach seeks stability at QB

Decision due tomorrow

'still in thick of things'

October 27, 1998|By VITO STELLINO | VITO STELLINO,SUN STAFF

It may be a dire situation that calls for Superman, but the Ravens hope they have the answer in Capt. Comeback.

For the second straight week, coach Ted Marchibroda said at his Monday news conference that he wouldn't name his starting quarterback until tomorrow, when the team starts practicing for Sunday's game against the Jacksonville Jaguars at Ravens stadium.

All indications, though, are that Marchibroda will go back to Capt. Comeback, Jim Harbaugh, as his starter against the Jaguars -- a team the Ravens/Browns franchise has never beaten in seven tries.

Marchibroda also hinted at more changes -- possibly in the offensive line and at linebacker -- but said he hopes to stick with one quarterback this week after yanking Eric Zeier for Harbaugh in the second half of the past two games. He's played two quarterbacks in five of their seven games while going 2-5.

"He threw the best I've seen him throw all year," Marchibroda said of Harbaugh's 9-for-20 relief appearance against the Green Bay Packers, as the coach telegraphed his decision to go back to the quarterback who started the first three games, but didn't make it to halftime of any of them.

Harbaugh, who got the Capt. Comeback nickname while pulling off improbable comebacks for Marchibroda in Indianapolis in 1995, took a 9-7 Indianapolis team to within a Hail Mary pass of the Super Bowl that season and may need to pull on a cape to pull the Ravens out of their slump. All the odds are against him.

The 28-10 loss to Green Bay on Sunday -- combined with New Orleans' victory over Tampa Bay -- left the Ravens with the worst record in the NFL -- 12-26-1 -- since they arrived in Baltimore in 1996.

Harbaugh will try to salvage a playoff berth out of a team that has started 2-5. Only three times in NFL history has a team come back from a 2-5 start or worse to make the playoffs.

The Cincinnati Bengals came back from a 1-6 start in 1970 to make the playoffs at 8-6, and the Detroit Lions in 1995 and the New Orleans Saints in 1990 came back from 2-5 starts to make the playoffs at 10-6 and 8-8.

Despite the rumors swirling that Marchibroda will be fired at the end of the season -- if not before -- Marchibroda seemed upbeat as ever. His trademark is that he always sees the glass as half full.

"What keeps you going is that if we win this game, we're still in the thick of things," he said. "I've been on ballclubs that were 1-4 and we won nine in a row [with the Colts]. I've been on ballclubs that won 11 in a row [with the Rams]. A lot of these guys haven't been through that; they're not sure it can be done. I think the worst is behind us. The important thing is to get everybody to believe."

With Zeier still ailing and Harbaugh apparently healed from his finger and elbow injuries that bothered him earlier in the season, Marchibroda seems to believe Harbaugh is the answer.

Zeier told Marchibroda at halftime in Green Bay that he was having trouble gripping the ball after suffering a sprained thumb at the end of the Pittsburgh game.

"There's no excuse for the way I threw the ball, but the ball was just coming out of my hand badly. I think my thumb affected me more than I thought it would," Zeier said.

Meanwhile, Harbaugh appears eager for the shot. He played hurt the first three games, but now says he's ready.

"I'm like a baseball pitcher who's had a sore arm," he said. "I've been getting racked all over the park. I know I can play better."

On top of that, Harbaugh has a competitive fire that always burns brightly. He once commented that nobody asks him the way they used to ask John Elway and the way they now ask Dan Marino about winning the Super Bowl, even though it's still his ultimate goal.

Harbaugh always dreams great dreams. Like Marchibroda, he thinks all things are possible.

"I have a great belief in what I can do as a player. It's not me. It is who is in me. I feel there's greatness there," Harbaugh said.

When he asked who's in him, he said, "God's in me."

He doesn't like to talk about why he thinks he can do it.

"I get kind of uncomfortable talking about myself. Modesty prevents me from going on and on about myself. I believe in my abilities. I believe in this team," he said.

He said he'll be starting for the Ravens in the playoffs.

"I believe that," he said.

He remembers when the Colts went to San Diego for the opening playoff game in 1995 with a team that had lost to the Chargers at home two weeks earlier and was missing its best running back, Marshall Faulk.

"I knew we were going to win that game. I just knew it," he said. The Colts won it and came within a play of the Super Bowl.

It's hard to underestimate what's on the line for Harbaugh. Harbaugh is playing for a coach who believes in him, the coach he played for in Indianapolis.

If Harbaugh doesn't save this season, Marchibroda likely will be fired, and the next coach may decide a quarterback who'll be 35 at the end of the season isn't the answer for the future.

Harbaugh, though, doesn't talk about the future.

"I know there's a lot on the line, but I don't worry about surviving until next year," he said. "My mentality is to go out and give it all we have now. I'm not trying to stick around for next year or survive for another season. I don't think you can think about next rTC year. You're not promised one day, let alone next year."

Next for Ravens

Opponent: Jacksonville Jaguars

Site: Ravens stadium

When: Sunday, 1: 01 p.m.

TV/Radio: Ch. 13/WJFK (1300 AM), WLIF (101.9 FM)

Tickets: Sold out

Line: Jaguars by 3 1/2

Pub Date: 10/27/98

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