Secondary's highs offset by its blown opportunities

3 picks could have been 6

Flutie sowed confusion

November 01, 1999|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

The defensive backs intercepted three Doug Flutie passes, yet they could have picked off six. They stuffed the Buffalo passing game for more than 58 minutes, but could not close the door on the Bills.

And after Flutie had used his scrambling ability to get the Bills into contention, then killed the Ravens with a 5-yard touchdown pass to running back Jonathan Linton, Ravens cornerback Duane Starks still seemed like he was in a daze as he digested the 13-10 defeat.

"Flutie scrambled and somebody popped open," said Starks, who watched Linton slip between him and safety Rod Woodson before making a sliding catch near the back of the end zone. "I didn't know whose man [Linton] was. I know my guy went to the outside. I looked around and saw another guy [Linton] coming across.

"We know we've got to hold them as long as we can, especially when the offense isn't moving the ball or scoring. We couldn't do it."

Not that the Ravens' secondary failed to provide plenty of highlight material. For starters, it ended the team's drought of two consecutive games without a turnover.

Rookie cornerback Chris McAlister showed why the Ravens made him their first-round draft choice this year by making eight solo tackles and picking off his team-leading third pass of the season.

McAlister broke up a Flutie pass on Buffalo's first possession, then caught Flutie locking in on wide-out Andre Reed near the end of the first quarter.

McAlister stepped in front of Reed and returned the interception 7 yards to set up a 37-yard field goal by Matt Stover that gave the Ravens a 10-0 lead. That proved to be the end of their scoring.

In the final minute of the first half, McAlister nearly made a spectacular interception in the Ravens' end zone that would have prevented a Doug Christie field goal, but the pass sailed through his fingertips.

McAlister wasn't alone. Cornerback DeRon Jenkins had an easy interception bounce off his hands and to the turf. Starks had a sure interception slip through his hands. Even safety Rod Woodson, who opened the second half by intercepting Flutie, nearly dropped the ball before being tackled after a short return.

"There were six or seven interceptions [possible] out there today. It definitely would have been a different ballgame [had the Ravens converted those chances]," McAlister said. "I think we played a great game, but we still have to get better."

Starks seemed to shake himself out of the doldrums that led to his benching in favor of McAlister last month. He batted away a pass and stepped in front of Reed to intercept Flutie late in the third quarter to stop a promising Buffalo drive inside the Ravens' 35.

But Starks also allowed a poorly thrown Flutie pass to slip through his hands and into Reed's early in the second quarter for a 17-yard gain. The Bills botched the snap on an ensuing field-goal attempt.

"It got there before I saw it," said Starks, explaining the one that got away. "It hit me in the hands real quick, before I had a chance to focus on it.

"I dropped two [possible interceptions] today. We might have had a better opportunity [to win] if we had more, but if we couldn't score [as a defense], things might have turned out the same way."

Jenkins, who has held onto his starting job all year, had the toughest day. Besides dropping a tailor-made interception midway through the second quarter, he was flagged for a pass-interference penalty that cost the Ravens 32 yards.

He also was the victim of Flutie's scrambling in crunch time. After Flutie had run 17 yards on a fourth-and-15 to give the Bills new life at the Ravens' 22, he eluded the Ravens' pass rush while Reed worked his way off of Jenkins' man-to-man coverage near the right sideline.

Flutie hit Reed with a 5-yard strike to the 17. On the next play, the quarterback scrambled left and went after Jenkins again, hitting Reed on an out pattern for 12 yards to the Ravens' 5. Then came the game-winner.

"It's hard to cover people when you have a quarterback who can scramble like that," Jenkins said. "The most difficult receiver to cover is the one who isn't running a route. I can't turn my back on him and look at Flutie. Those are just plays I'm going to have to make."

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