Return game yields end zone results Harris, Johnson kick off early scoring for Ravens

December 14, 1998|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

Two weeks ago, after coming close to breaking a kickoff return for a touchdown on three occasions, Corey Harris basically guaranteed that, before the season was over, he would be celebrating in the end zone.

Harris was a man of his word yesterday. Then, rookie Patrick Johnson followed Harris' lead. And by the end of the first quarter, although the Ravens' offense had yet to show up, their kickoff return unit suddenly had become the toast of the team's Camden Yards stadium.

Harris and Johnson, who accounted for the Ravens' first touchdowns, will not forget their show anytime soon. The Ravens rolled up 367 kickoff return yards, breaking an NFL record that had stood since Oct. 29, 1950, when Detroit recorded 362 against Los Angeles.

Harris had eight returns for 243 yards, and his first was his best. After the Vikings took a 3-0 lead five minutes into the game, Harris gathered Gary Anderson's kickoff at the 5, ran up the middle through a gaping hole, veered to his right and sprinted untouched down the sideline to complete a 95-yard return for the score.

Harris, who got an insurance block from Johnson near the end of the play, duck-walked the last 5 yards for good measure.

"I don't think anyone was surprised on this team [by his score]. The surprise was in the stands," Harris said. "I can't go from side-to-side, stop and cut and go like Jermaine [Lewis]. I just use my blockers. Returning kicks is like a track meet. You hit it [the wall of pursuit] at full speed, and you either come out of the other side running or you don't.

"I said before the game that I felt like there were two touchdowns in this group today."

Harris was calling himself a prophet before the crowd had completely settled into its seats.

After the Vikings had cut the lead to 7-6 with 3: 55 left in the opening quarter, Johnson stepped into the hero's role. Behind blocks by Brian Kinchen and Ralph Staten, Johnson darted up the middle, through the Vikings' initial line of defense and into the clear.

Unlike Harris, who lacks breakaway speed, Johnson pulled away from his pursuit easily.

The moment was sweet for Johnson, who has seen his playing time decrease at wide receiver because of a slew of dropped passes.

"I haven't touched the ball in a long time. I've been pressing so hard, trying to make plays. I feel like I've put too much pressure on myself at times," Johnson said.

"After Corey took one back, I just knew they weren't going to kick it to Corey again. I have so much confidence in the guys up front. They make my job totally easy. Nobody even touched me."

Minnesota's David Palmer immediately returned the favor, after Johnson's play gave the Ravens a 14-6 lead. On that kickoff, Palmer hit an initial wall up the middle, bounced outside to his right, broke tackles by Harris and Donny Brady, and finished an 88-yard return for a touchdown, cutting the Ravens' lead to 14-12 with 3: 22 left in the first quarter.

At that point, the two teams had already combined to set an NFL record with three kickoff returns for touchdowns in one game.

Harris did suffer one blemish on his otherwise productive day. After the Vikings had taken a 15-14 lead two minutes into the second quarter, Harris fumbled the ensuing kickoff, which was recovered by the Vikings. Minnesota quickly converted, as Randall Cunningham hit Randy Moss with a 17-yard touchdown pass.

Harris disputed the call.

"It wasn't a fumble. I hit the ground first," Harris said. "I'm not criticizing the referees. That's the human error in this game. It's .. something I think the owners are going to address in the off-season [through the possible return of instant replay]."

Replays of the return showed that Harris indeed did fumble.

Pub Date: 12/14/98

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