Starks finding he's on hot seat

Jaguars, like Browns, likely to target corner

October 25, 2001|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

Deja vu struck a painful chord with Ravens cornerback Duane Starks.

In a span of five minutes, he went stride-for-stride with a receiver, only to fall a yard short each time in surrendering two critical touchdown strikes.

That was a replay from Sunday's 24-14 loss to the Browns in Cleveland. That was a harsh reminder from a year ago against the Jacksonville Jaguars.

As old and new memories collide, Starks finds himself defending his ability to stop big plays.

That old reputation dates back to the second game of last season, when Starks was victimized for two long touchdown passes to Jaguars receiver Jimmy Smith and was deemed the weak link by teams. Thirteen months later, he will get a long-awaited shot at retribution Sunday, when he lines up against Smith and the Jaguars for the first time since that haunting performance.

"I'm definitely looking forward to it," Starks said. "But I can't give it any more hype than any other game or any other receiver. It's definitely going to be a game where I have to show that I can cover these guys."

Starks believed he had distanced himself from that embarrassing day with three interceptions during the Ravens' suffocating Super Bowl run. But Sunday's collapse in Cleveland dredged up his susceptibility to the big play.

First, Starks was beaten for a 28-yard touchdown pass when Browns receiver Kevin Johnson freed himself with a late push-off.

Two minutes later, the Browns attacked Starks again with a switch route, which clears out the inside by sending receivers on criss-crossing patterns downfield. Starks ran in step with Quincy Morgan, only to watch quarterback Tim Couch's pass glance off his fingertip and into Morgan's outstretched hands for a 36-yard scoring play.

That play was nearly identical to the ones run last season by the Jaguars, who ultimately lost, 39-36, to the Ravens in Week 2.

"The Browns targeted him on the second touchdown. They targeted him based on Jacksonville," defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis said. "I know that. It was the exact same route we've seen 90 times since Jacksonville."

And Jaguars quarterback Mark Brunell targeted Starks a year ago. In the first half, Brunell threw at Starks 10 times and completed seven. But the biggest blows - those 45 and 43-yard touchdown throws - were delivered in the first quarter.

When the AFC Central rivals played again a month later, Starks missed out on redemption, standing on the sideline to rest a hamstring injury.

By Starks' account, time doesn't heal all wounds.

"I remember it quite well, not finishing the play," Starks said. "I remember quite well giving up two touchdowns. But I remember quite well me finishing the game real strong."

Smith, who torched the Ravens with 15 catches for 291 yards and three touchdowns, called Starks a different player from their last matchup.

"Since then, I've seen him getting better and better," Smith said.

In producing 375 yards passing against the Ravens, the Jaguars didn't solely pick on Starks.

Chris McAlister, the Ravens' other cornerback, was flagged twice - on a questionable illegal hands-to-the-face penalty and a more deserving pass-interference call. But in that second meeting with Jacksonville, McAlister got his own measure of revenge when he held Smith in check, giving up only two catches for 11 yards.

"This is not a focus on Duane because we've got to play both sides better," Lewis said. "[In the first game], Duane ended up with the touchdowns passes and Chris ended up giving them first downs, which enabled the touchdown passes to occur. It's dual-sided."

And the Ravens expect Jacksonville to attack their cornerbacks with Smith.

After an impressive comeback from off-season abdominal surgery, Smith has made a team-leading 36 catches for 420 yards.

Starks is ready to accept the big-play challenge that has been 13 months in the making.

"They see what happens on film and if they feel they have a shot, let them take it," Starks said.

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