Ravens' passing game adds new faces

Johnson, Davis, DeLong excel as replacements in receiving rotation

Ravens 34, Bengals 31

November 22, 1999|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

CINCINNATI -- Justin Armour and Qadry Ismail had been the mainstays in the Ravens' often-sputtering passing game before yesterday.

The other guys picked a fine time to show up in yesterday's 34-31 victory over the Bengals.

Wide receiver Patrick Johnson resurfaced after an extended absence to have the best game of his career.

Wide receiver Billy Davis, whose football life had been reduced primarily to special teams work after joining the Ravens this year, produced the team's biggest play from scrimmage in his best performance of 1999.

And Greg DeLong, the H-back who can turn into a fullback or a tight end at any moment, caught the first touchdown of his career.

They aren't exactly the new posse. Not yet. But they did prove to be excellent replacements in a receiving rotation that was missing Armour and tight end A. J. Ofodile.

Armour missed the game while recovering from a leg injury he suffered in Jacksonville eight days ago. Ofodile left yesterday's game in the first half with a sprained left knee.

"Where have I been? You question yourself sometimes," said Davis, who doubled his reception total for the year by snaring two passes for 86 yards. "I don't know if I've earned more snaps [with yesterday's showing], but I know I have the ability to go in there and be another body. The injury situation lent me my opportunity."

And Davis, who entered the Bengals' game with two catches for 19 yards -- he had 39 receptions for 691 yards to register career-highs in both categories with Dallas in 1998 -- cashed in big on his chance six minutes into the second half.

On a third-and-15 at the Ravens' 25, Davis found a seam in the deep middle of the Bengals' zone defense, caught a Tony Banks pass in stride, broke a tackle by safety Tremain Mack at the Cincinnati 30, then got dragged down by Mack at the 2. Two plays later, Errict Rhett scored on a 2-yard run to give the Ravens a 17-14 lead with 8: 18 left in the third quarter.

Johnson stepped up next. Taking advantage of his first professional start, he had the game of his two-year career with six catches for 73 yards. And he followed up Davis' heroics with a stop-and-go move that left Bengals cornerback Ty Howard standing still. By the time Howard recovered, Johnson had him beat by five yards and was waiting in the end zone for Banks' 25-yard scoring pass.

Johnson's score atoned for an earlier miscue, in which he allowed a perfectly thrown bomb by Banks to slip through his hands after attempting a difficult, over-the-shoulder grab in the end zone.

"I just lost the ball that time, but I want to take the good things from this game," said Johnson, who had played in only one game since finishing a 14-11 loss in Tennessee on Oct. 10 with a dropped touchdown pass.

"I played virtually the whole game, and I've never started before. At first, I was so nervous. And the game was so tight early, it was hard to settle down," he added. "I just need to play more and get more comfortable in the framework of this offense."

Johnson proved once again that he has the speed to get open consistently. He also nearly made a spectacular, one-handed grab in the second half.

DeLong's score, a 2-yard reception, which cut Cincinnati's early lead to 14-10 with 54 seconds left in the first half, was special. DeLong said he wasn't sure how to celebrate the first trip to the end zone of his five-year career.

"I didn't know if I should do a touchdown dance or hand the ball to the official. It was a short celebration, because I'm on the extra-point team," said DeLong, who threw it to someone on the sidelines. "It will be in a case by tomorrow."

DeLong left Minnesota and signed with the Ravens, partly because he expected to get more pass-catching chances. Although his role is primarily that of a blocker -- which DeLong did plenty of while sharing fullback duty with Chuck Evans -- DeLong's calculations are proving correct.

Before this year, eight receptions marked DeLong's career high. He finished yesterday with four receptions for 23 yards.

On the season, DeLong has 10 catches for 45 yards. And his first trip to pay dirt.

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