Ravens' not-so-special teams return

Patriots' Brown sets tone with 155 yards in 1st half

January 03, 2000|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

FOXBORO, Mass. -- New England kick return man Troy Brown provided a nightmare that Ravens coach Brian Billick had not seen in quite some time.

During the first month of the 1999 season, the Ravens were a special teams coverage breakdown waiting to happen. By midseason, they seemed to have the problem under control.

And then Brown showed up to play a key role in yesterday's 20-3 Patriots victory by shredding the Ravens.

"A lot of things showed up today that cost us earlier in the season. That [special teams problem] flared back up," said Billick, alluding to a first half in which Brown changed the complexion of the game with three returns for 155 yards. "We reverted back today."

The Ravens reverted to the team that couldn't cover, during a game in which field position proved vital. The Patriots generated only 151 yards of net offense, all of which the Ravens returned to them.

Brown, a seven-year veteran, turned the game in New England's favor the first three times he touched the ball. That put the Patriots in position to take a 10-3 lead 10 minutes into the second quarter.

He started by taking the opening kickoff 54 yards to the Ravens' 44. The Ravens forced a punt, but the trend was set.

"We are tone-setters in the game, and when you have the first kickoff returned like [Brown] did, that sets a tone," kicker Matt Stover said. "It looked like we never bounced back from that."

While the Ravens reeled on special teams, Brown kept punching. The Ravens regrouped briefly by putting together an 11-play, 78-yard drive that culminated in a 19-yard field goal by Stover early in the second quarter, giving the Ravens a 3-0 lead.

The momentum did not last long. On the ensuing kickoff, Brown sliced through the Ravens' coverage for a 49-yard gain to the Ravens' 41. With that, Billick charged down the sideline and ripped special teams coach Russ Purnell, whose job could be in jeopardy.

The Patriots quickly drove for the game-tying field goal.

"I was supposed to kick the ball more directionally, but the ball didn't get out there like I wanted it to," said Stover, who saved a touchdown by dropping Brown. It was Stover's third special teams tackle of the season.

Brown had one more big play in him. After the Ravens went three-and-out after the Patriots' field goal, Brown took Kyle Richardson's punt and turned it into a 52-yard return to the Ravens' 23.

Five plays later, New England quarterback Drew Bledsoe hit Mike Bartrum with a 1-yard touchdown pass to give the Patriots a 10-3 lead with 5: 04 left in the first half.

"We just kept losing containment [on Brown]," said Ravens special teams leader Bennie Thompson. "He kept getting outside, which is what we didn't want. We didn't get a real good kickoff on one of them, but guys still have to run down the field and make tackles."

Brown, who also hurt the Ravens with a season-high five catches for 19 yards, wound up with 173 return yards. His 52-yard punt return was the longest by the Patriots this year. The only thing Brown failed to do was complete a deep pass after he caught a second-half lateral from Bledsoe.

Billy Davis, who has battled Thompson all year for the Ravens' lead in special teams tackles, said Brown had plenty of help -- from his blockers and the Ravens.

"They had a really good scheme," Davis said. "They really exposed some of the things we were trying to get them with."

Blame the NFL

If you were enjoying CBS' "bonus" coverage of the Oakland Raiders-Kansas City Chiefs game after the Ravens ended yesterday, perhaps you were blaming some network/Washington Redskins conspiracy when Channel 13 switched to the Redskins-Miami Dolphins game. Not true.

A CBS official said league rules require the network to switch to a scheduled doubleheader game by 4: 15, so Channel 13 had to take the second game regardless of who was playing in it. The network actually ran past 4: 15 because of the game's playoff implications, but was forced to switch when a natural break came on the Raiders' tying field goal in regulation.

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