Je. Lewis alone unable to reverse Ravens' fortune

Team can't follow up his punt return for TD

Steelers 27, Ravens 10

January 21, 2002|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,SUN STAFF

PITTSBURGH -- It was supposed to be a momentum-shifter, the play that would haunt the Pittsburgh Steelers and invigorate the Ravens, who in five straight playoff wins had continually pulled rabbits out of their hats.

The only magic that the Ravens could muster at Heinz Field yesterday, however, was Jermaine Lewis' 88-yard punt return for a touchdown in the third quarter, the longest in NFL postseason history. He was the only Raven to visit the end zone, as the special teams outscored the offense 7-3 in a 27-10 loss to Pittsburgh.

"The punt to Jermaine," Shannon Sharpe said, "I said, `OK, we've arrived, it's going to happen,' but it got to the point where midnight came early for Cinderella. It came around 3:30 today."

Pittsburgh had a 20-3 lead and was running roughshod over the Ravens when Lewis gave the reigning Super Bowl champions a flicker of hope.

On a day when little went right for the Ravens, the play did not exactly unfold the way special teams coach Russ Purnell drew it up.

"We were going for the block," said Lewis, who fielded the ball near the left sideline. "The guy [Steelers punter Josh Miller] kicked it to his right. I was supposed to return it up that side, but I saw an opening to the right, so I said, `Let's run over there and see what happens.' I got a couple of good blocks and was able to hit the corner at full speed. There really wasn't anybody out there to stop me. I didn't have to use any of my moves. It was just my speed, really."

It was the first punt return for a touchdown allowed by the Steelers since 1947.

A sixth-year pro out of Maryland, Lewis finished third in the AFC in punt returns (12.4 average) and second in kickoff returns (24.7), but it was his first touchdown since Super Bowl XXXV, when he silenced the New York Giants with an 84-yard kickoff return.

In a game filled with Ravens mistakes, Corey Harris, the up man, fielded two kickoffs that Lewis could have had a running start on. On the punt returns, Lewis said he was surprised the Steelers gave him a chance.

"I really didn't expect them to kick it to me in the first place," said Lewis, whose fumble on the opening kickoff in the wild-card win last week had precipitated Miami's only points. "I just had to prove to them that they shouldn't kick it to me. We were still down 10, and we were still going to need some plays, but it was a start. We just couldn't sustain it."

The defense did its part, as it forced a second straight three-and-out series by the Pittsburgh offense, but three incomplete passes by Elvis Grbac re-established the home team's control, and the Steelers went on an 83-yard touchdown drive.

"At a pivotal point where you can seize the day, we have done that any number of times," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "That's something that could have turned on a single play, had we been able to make something happen. But we didn't, and they [the Steelers] were a big part of it because they responded like the champions they are."

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