Late return kicks Ravens

Midfield start sparks winning Steelers drive after Case-led rally

Billick mum on No. 1 QB

0-2 club has less than 11 men on field 3 times

September 20, 1999|By Mike Preston | Mike Preston,SUN STAFF

The Ravens may have found their quarterback of the future yesterday, but they still couldn't overcome the problems of the past.

After nearly six weeks of training camp and four preseason games, the Ravens have not found answers to their erratic special teams play and inconsistent offense, two factors that played prominent roles in their 23-20 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers at PSINet Stadium.

The Ravens (0-2) kept the crowd of 68,965 on edge with a six-play, 72-yard drive that was capped by a 19-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Stoney Case, filling in for the benched Scott Mitchell, to Qadry Ismail. The scoring play, with 1: 22 left, tied the game 20-20, but Pittsburgh rookie Kris Brown kicked a 36-yard field goal as time expired to win.

The field goal was set up by a short kickoff from Matt Stover to the 13-yard line following Ismail's touchdown. Pittsburgh's Will Blackwell returned the kick up the middle 37 yards to the 50-yard line with 1: 15 left.

Some of the Ravens players said there were only nine defensive players on the first play following Blackwell's return, when Pittsburgh quarterback Kordell Stewart completed a 12-yard pass to Courtney Hawkins. The Steelers ran three more plays before sending out Brown.

"I don't know. There was a lot of confusion out there," said Ravens defensive tackle Tony Siragusa. "Some guys were upset because of the long runback, and then I heard there were only nine or 10 guys out there. We have to correct those kind of mistakes if we ever want to think about the playoffs.

"We're 0-2 now, at the bottom. I've been in this game too long, I don't want to lose anymore. At the end of the season, you take a look back and see you're only two games out, and this was one that you could have won."

Ravens coach Brian Billick said: "It was very disappointing to come back the way we did, and then lose. What we have to do is correct those things and move on. We're going to have to look at special teams, what we did, what we're trying to do and how we're trying to do it. It will get corrected by player or coach."

Special teams, though, is only one problem. Quarterback is another. Just who is the starter? Nobody knows. And Billick isn't telling until "the appropriate time." But he apparently has moved off his "take a leap of faith with me" comments about Mitchell as his starting quarterback.

The fans started booing Mitchell about five minutes into the game when he was pressured out of the pocket and tackled for a 1-yard gain by Pittsburgh linebacker Jason Gildon on third down of the Ravens' second possession. Only minutes earlier, Mitchell had thrown behind receiver Jermaine Lewis and his pass was intercepted by cornerback Dewayne Washington at the Ravens' 35, which set up an 8-yard touchdown run by Stewart for a 7-0 lead with 10: 57 left in the quarter.

Mitchell completed seven of 16 passes for 48 yards and was replaced by Case with 9: 18 left in the third quarter. Billick said he made the move because the Ravens needed more mobility at the position. But Mitchell was having a second straight bad game and even had problems completing short passes in the flat.

The Ravens started drives at the Steelers' 49, 31 and the Ravens' 44 in the second quarter and one at the Ravens' 35 in the third quarter with Mitchell. The Ravens scored only three points on those drives. Mitchell was more elusive in his getaway from reporters yesterday than he was in the pocket. He was unavailable to comment.

And for one of the few times since Billick became head coach in January, he had very little to say about who would be his No. 1 quarterback next week against the Cleveland Browns. Or who would be his backup. This marks the second straight year Mitchell has been benched in the second game of the season.

"I'll let you know at the appropriate time," said Billick about the order of his quarterbacks.

Case, signed by the team on Aug. 17, was rusty at first possibly from taking few snaps last week during two days of rainstorms that forced the Ravens to have walk-through practices inside the team's weightlifting facility. But Case came on to complete seven of 15 passes for 130 yards, including the touchdown pass to Ismail. He also had a 26-yard completion to Justin Armour, a 24-yarder to Jermaine Lewis and led drives of 51 and 72 yards in the fourth quarter.

He did have one major mistake. He forgot to read a blitz from the left side and was sacked by right outside linebacker Carlos Emmons and fumbled, which set up a Brown 32-yard field goal with 4: 16 left in the third quarter.

"I'm real disappointed," Case said. "It took me too long to get going. I was thinking too much out there. We were down and Coach obviously had confidence in me and put me in. It was his decision. If the coach says, `Stoney, you're going to start,' I'll be ready. I'm always ready. I prepare myself like I am the starting quarterback whether I am or not."

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