Pierce fumbles away spot to Ofodile

RAVENS NOTEBOOK

Billick doesn't name new tight end starter, but makes change in game: Jaguars 6, Ravens 3

November 15, 1999|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Ravens coach Brian Billick would not say whether A. J. Ofodile would start at tight end next week in Cincinnati, yet there was a definite changing of the guard at that position for the majority of yesterday's game.

Aaron Pierce started his fourth straight contest, but Billick yanked him after Pierce lost a fumble at the Jacksonville Jaguars' 20 with 7: 21 left in the first half and the Ravens trailing 3-0.

The play loomed huge in the 6-3 loss. It happened on a fourth-and-two. Quarterback Tony Banks dumped a short completion to Pierce, who turned upfield for a 7-yard gain, only to lose the ball after getting hit by linebacker Lonnie Marts. The fumble was recovered by cornerback Fernando Bryant and returned 23 yards to the Jacksonville 43.

Ofodile replaced Pierce for the rest of the game.

"You can't beat Jacksonville if you're going to turn the ball over," Billick said. "If someone turns the ball over, I've got to find somebody who will go in there and not turn the ball over. At some point, players and coaches have to understand that there are consequences for your actions.

"I can't throw a fuzzy arm around them and say, `Go back in there and win one for the Gipper, son,' and have another mistake."

Kicked around

When the two top defenses in the league meet, field position and punters typically play an important role, and yesterday proved to be no exception.

The contestants graced the ALLTEL Stadium crowd with 18 combined punts. Excluding the Ravens' one punt that was blocked, Kyle Richardson and Jacksonville's Bryan Barker each averaged 42.6 yards per punt, but that is where the similarity in their performances ended.

The most valuable player in Jacksonville's eighth victory of the season likely was Barker, who kept the Ravens' inept offense bottled up constantly. Eight times Barker pinned the Ravens inside their 20, which is a team record. Barker was a huge reason the Ravens opened their 13 possessions on average at their 19.

Richardson was not nearly as effective. Not only did he have a punt blocked deep in Ravens territory, leading to a critical Jaguars field goal, but Richardson never got into a solid rhythm that has marked his season. His long-distance punts lacked hang time. He shanked several punts. Although three of his attempts went for 45 yards or more, the other four never climbed above 37 yards.

Richardson also could not put the Ravens' defense on a short field for most of the game. Part of the problem was traced to the offense's inability to move the ball out of its territory, but the bottom line is Richardson -- who entered the game leading the league with 25 punts inside the opponents' 20 -- only forced the Jaguars into that hole once.

"We're 8-1 and thank goodness for special teams and Bryan Barker," Jacksonville coach Tom Coughlin said.

"We played in our own back end the whole time," Billick said. "It's our fault offensively for not pushing it out, and we couldn't get anything cranked out on special teams."

Richardson's omen came early. On his first attempt, he sliced one 36 yards, giving Reggie Barlow a chance to return it 26 yards to the Ravens' 46. That set a field position tone the Ravens never overcame.

The low point came four minutes into the second quarter, when Dave Thomas burst up the middle to block Richardson's punt, giving the Jaguars the ball at the Ravens' 14. Jacksonville had to settle for a 28-yard field goal by Mike Hollis for a 3-0 lead.

"I don't know what happened on the block, but there are no excuses," Richardson said. "I could sit here and give you excuses, but I'm not. I had a bad game. It's unfortunate. Let's move on."

D efense not celebrating No. 1

After holding Jacksonville to a meager 132 yards of offense, the Ravens could wake up today with the NFL's top-ranked defense.

But middle linebacker Ray Lewis is not particularly impressed. "It really doesn't mean anything. It shows improvement and it shows that we're steady coming every day," said Lewis, who finished with eight tackles, tying cornerback DeRon Jenkins for the team high.

"The No. 1 ranking or No. 2 ranking is fine and dandy. The goal is to turn this thing around and start winning. We can't lose them all. We just have to keep doing what we're doing [as a defense] and everything else will fall into place."

A little revenge I

Jenkins has experienced his share of misery against the Jaguars in the past, especially against wide receiver Jimmy Smith.

Jenkins and the Ravens' secondary kept the Jacksonville receivers in check. Smith had seven catches for 52 yards, including a long gain of 11. Keenan McCardell had four catches for 18 yards.

Much of the Jaguars' lack of production resulted from a conservative game plan by Coughlin, who rarely tried to go deep against the Ravens. Jacksonville often settled for short slants, curls and screen passes, and the Ravens did an effective job of tackling.

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