As he learns to play with fire, Starks continues to get burned Raiders receiver Jett gives Ravens rookie a lesson, but cornerback has last word

November 09, 1998|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

The initiation of Duane Starks proceeded as scheduled yesterday, and Oakland receiver James Jett gave the Ravens rookie cornerback plenty to ponder during his three-hour lesson.

Starks, making the first start of his NFL career, ran into a six-year veteran with world-class speed, lots of knowledge and a few slick moves to boot. Actually, Starks missed Jett quite often. Jett was busy running by him and catching passes in front of him, on a day in which he had five receptions for 92 yards.

Starks, who finished with seven tackles and a pass deflection, also gave up a first-down reception to Pro Bowl receiver Tim Brown.

"I'm sure he was a little nervous. We put him in a tough position," Ravens coach Ted Marchibroda said of Starks. "They have an outstanding receiver, and they were going to go after the young guy. He learned a little bit. I think he's going to get better with every ballgame."

Give Starks credit. As he has seemingly done after every mistake he has made this year, Starks rebounded. Yesterday, he had the last word in a 13-10 victory that belonged to the defense. Starks leaped high in the end zone to intercept a Hail Mary pass by quarterback Donald Hollas on the game's final play. It was Starks' fourth interception, most among NFL rookies.

Then Starks did to the media what Jett had done to him all afternoon. Starks beat the coverage, brushing past a group of reporters in the post-game locker room without comment.

"I thought he played well," fellow cornerback and teammate Rod Woodson said of Starks. "He had some adversity, but he kept fighting."

The adversity came quickly. On the Raiders' second play from scrimmage, quarterback Jeff George took a tremendous shot from linebacker Peter Boulware, but not before George beat Starks by completing a 35-yard strike to Jett along the left sideline.

Boulware's hit knocked George out of action, but Hollas kept his sights on Starks after joining the action late in the first quarter.

With 10 minutes left in the first half and the Ravens leading 7-0, Hollas and Jett went to work. Starting from the Oakland 15, Jett beat Starks for an 8-yard completion. Four plays later, on third-and-12, Brown beat Starks on an out pattern for a 13-yard gain and a first down at the Ravens' 36.

"I was just trying to get open. It seemed like [Starks] slipped up a couple of times," Jett said.

Four plays later, Starks lined up in man-to-man coverage on Jett. Starks promptly slipped on the turf as Jett cut inside, then grabbed Jett as he ran by for what would have been an easy touchdown reception. Flags flew. Holding on Starks, who made a good decision. First-and-goal at the 3.

The Ravens then picked up Starks by stuffing Oakland in a spirited goal-line stand -- thanks largely to the officials, who apparently missed Hollas breaking the plane of the goal on a sneak from the 1.

Starks came back to bat away a third-quarter pass intended for Jett. But the veteran came back to deal the rookie another lesson with nine minutes left in the contest and the Ravens clinging to a 13-10 lead. Jett burned him for a 19-yard gain to the Raiders' 42. The drive stalled shortly after that, leaving Starks to make a statement on the game's final play.

"It's hard to say how [Starks] played until we see the tape," Ravens defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis said. "I know some balls went over there [to Starks' side] in man-to-man, and we have to defend them."

Said secondary coach Alvin Reynolds: "Duane went out there and matched up with James Jett, a great receiver. He got beat on a play or two, but he kept coming back. He did a good job."

Pub Date: 11/09/98

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