Ravens left again to feel mistaken

FROM THE SIDELINES

December 14, 1998|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,SUN STAFF

Turn out the lights, the party's over for the Ravens. They're now officially doomed to another losing season.

It was almost symbolic that several banks of lights at the Ravens' new Camden Yards stadium went out with 13: 35 left in the fourth quarter. The Ravens were already losing 35-14 to the Minnesota Vikings and were heading for their third straight losing season since moving to Baltimore.

The lights slowly came back on as the Vikings wrapped up a strange, 38-28 victory. Whether or not they were overconfident, the Vikings (13-1) didn't play their "A" game, but they didn't need to in their first appearance in Baltimore in 30 years.

The loss left the Ravens 5-9, which means the best they can finish is 7-9, just a half-game improvement on last year's 6-9-1.

Quarterback Jim Harbaugh, though, said the team still has something to prove in the last two games.

"We feel like we have a better team than we've shown so far. We'd like to finish on a strong note," Harbaugh said.

To do that, they've got to stop making mistakes.

"Broken record," cornerback Rod Woodson said as he referred to all the mistakes the Ravens have made this season.

They wasted two kickoff returns for touchdowns by turning the ball over six times -- five fumbles and an interception -- in the first 32 minutes.

The first fumble came on the Ravens' first offensive play, by Priest Holmes with 5: 57 left in the first quarter.

"We finally get to run our offense and, boom, there goes the ball," Holmes said of the fumble. "It crushes you."

That first turnover set the tone for the Ravens.

"We gave them an early Christmas gift," defensive end Michael McCrary said of the loss. "They didn't even thank us after the game. They should have thanked us."

Harbaugh, who fumbled a snap and threw an interception, said that without the turnovers, "I think it would have been a different story. I don't know if we would have beaten them. It would have been nice to play them even up. It was a bummer. The defense was on the field constantly. It's not the formula for success."

The Ravens have been looking for a success formula since they moved to Baltimore.

Highlights and lowlights of the loss that left the Ravens with a 15-30-1 record in Baltimore:

Turning point: For all their mistakes, the Ravens trailed only 25-14 at halftime. But Holmes fumbled on the first scrimmage play of the third quarter, and Harbaugh threw an interception on their second scrimmage play. The Vikings turned those two turnovers into 10 points for a 35-14 lead that made it a rout.

Ground game: The Ravens have won all four games when Holmes has run for 99 or more yards. But after getting just 27 in last week's loss to Tennessee, he managed only 39 this week, although he averaged 4.9 yards on eight carries. Holmes was benched after fumbling twice, but Errict Rhett gained just 16 yards in seven carries. Holmes blamed himself for losing the ball while fighting for an extra yard. "It's a lesson to be learned," he said.

Stepping up: It's still a puzzle why wide receiver Floyd Turner didn't play more this year. He finally got his chance to start last week because both starters were injured and has shown he's still a dependable receiver. He caught two touchdown passes last week and hauled in 10 passes for 147 yards and a touchdown yesterday.

Record time: Minnesota's Gary Anderson kicked six field goals to boost his NFL record string to 34 straight. With two seconds left in the first half, the Vikings were on the Ravens' 29 and passed up a 46-yard field-goal attempt. Although coach Dennis Green denied it, it appeared he didn't want to risk ending Anderson's string on a long attempt because he felt the game was in hand.

Strategy: It doesn't make sense to pass up a sure point on an extra point for a risky try for two in the first half, but coaches keep doing it. Trailing 14-12 in the first quarter, the Vikings went for two and didn't make it. The one point they gave up didn't affect the outcome, although it would have enabled the Vikings to cover the 10-point spread.

Dee-fense: Considering that they were on the field for 91 plays, the Ravens' defense did a respectable job, giving up only two touchdown passes. The Ravens' cornerbacks played way off Randy Moss and Cris Carter, giving up the short pass but guarding against the bomb. Moss' longest catch was a 32-yarder, and he took a quarterback slide to end that one as the fans booed.

Slippery turf: The Ravens' new high-tech field seems to have suffered in the move from Memorial Stadium. It got rave reviews last year, but Green and Anderson commented that it was slippery. And Duane Starks said he slipped on it when he made an interception.

Looking ahead: The Ravens now go to Chicago for a game against the Bears that means only field position in next April's draft for the two teams. But it'll be special for Harbaugh, because it'll be a homecoming. It'll be his first appearance at Soldier Field since Bears coach Dave Wannstedt gave up on him.

Pub Date: 12/14/98

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