Ravens catch spirit, bombs

Impassioned effort, 54-yard Armour TD in OT foil Falcons

52-yarder cut 13-3 deficit

`Same defense I faced in NFC championship'

Ravens 19, Falcons 13,OT

October 04, 1999|By Mike Preston | Mike Preston,SUN STAFF

ATLANTA -- The Ravens displayed more desire and passion in one game yesterday than they did in the previous three seasons.

First, running back Errict Rhett talked trash and accidentally screamed into the official's microphone on the field that he was "running like a truck." Injured offensive tackle Harry Swayne limped through play after play late in the game because the team already had lost another starting tackle to injury in the first half. Then, after a special teams tackle late in the game, linebacker Jamie Sharper punched at the air and head-butted teammates.

The Ravens overcame injuries as well as obstacles to stun a Georgia Dome crowd of 50,712 when Stoney Case completed a 54-yard touchdown pass deep over the middle to receiver Justin Armour with 12: 31 left in sudden-death overtime for a 19-13 win over the Atlanta Falcons.

The Ravens high-fived, hugged and then piled onto each other to celebrate their victory on the home field of the defending NFC champions. Maybe, just maybe, after three straight losing seasons and only 18 victories, the Ravens had a breakthrough game against the Falcons (0-4). It is the fourth time in the Ravens' brief history that they have won two consecutive games.

"To fight back the way they had to, this team has got to believe. When you can do that with a slow white guy, you got to believe it means something," said coach Brian Billick, referring to Armour. "The thing I'm most pleased about -- every week we've gotten better. This is a big step for us."

Billick didn't want to hear about the Falcons' not having quarterback Chris Chandler and Pro Bowl running back Jamal Anderson, out with injuries. Or that the Falcons had several defensive starters who were slowed by injuries.

The bottom line is that the Ravens are 2-2 and going to Tennessee next week to face the Titans (3-1), who are tied for the AFC Central lead.

"Maybe we can be a good football team. To come into the defending NFC champion's house and get one, that's something. And that was the same defense I faced in last year's NFC championship game," said Billick, who was offensive coordinator for the Minnesota Vikings last season. "All of this `they're hurt,' no, they were all there."

One thing that is definitely hurting is the Falcons' pride. One season after going to the Super Bowl, they are winless and fading. They had a chance to win the game in regulation, but a holding penalty by left tackle Bob Whitfield against Michael McCrary on a second-and-five from the Ravens' 26 took Atlanta out of field-goal range with 1: 07 left.

That set the stage for the Ravens' late heroics. Faced with a second-and-12 from the Ravens' 46 in overtime, Billick sent Armour long. Falcons safety Eugene Robinson chose to come up on speedster Patrick Johnson crossing the middle, leaving the deep middle open for Armour, who easily beat cornerback Ronnie Bradford. Johnson had beaten the Falcons for a 52-yard touchdown pass in the third quarter, and caught two bombs for touchdowns against them in the preseason.

Billick said he made the call because he was already without starting tackles Jonathan Ogden (cervical strain) and Swayne (sprained ankle). Ogden left with 1: 18 remaining in the first half. Swayne went down shortly afterward, but played until late in the fourth quarter. Ogden is questionable for next week, and Swayne is probable. The Ravens were out of linemen when the game ended.

"If I had to, I would have limped back out there like Willis Reed at the Garden," Swayne said.

He didn't have to. The Ravens scored on their third offensive play of the overtime.

"At first, I just wanted to see their configuration," Billick said. "Our offensive line was pretty banged up, so I didn't think we could go on a 10- or 11-play drive. So once they got in the defense we expected, I wanted to take a shot at it. I looked to see if Jermaine [Lewis] was in there, and it was Justin. But the Stanford guy came through for me."

Armour said: "I knew the middle safety was leaving, and the post route is hard to defend one-on-one on the outside. They're not used to seeing a guy like me go deep. I just gave him a nod outside and went for all it was worth."

That was the game-winning play. But the biggest was Johnson's touchdown. Falcons quarterback Danny Kanell's shovel pass to Jammi German was turned into a 30-yard touchdown, which gave Atlanta a 13-3 lead with 3: 32 left in the third quarter.

But four plays later, Case found Johnson down the right sideline for the 52-yard touchdown. After the catch, Johnson stood over fallen cornerback Ray Buchanan, who had coverage on the play. Johnson taunted Buchanan by dancing over him. It looked like the Falcons' Dirty Bird, but Johnson said it was a dance he had practiced with fellow wide receiver Billy Davis last week.

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