Nightmare begins early for special teams

Mistakes, penalties lead to 28-3 first-half hole

Nfl Week 8

Steelers 31, Ravens 18

October 28, 2002|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,SUN STAFF

Special teams played a large part in the Ravens' upset of the Denver Broncos on Monday Night Football last month.

Yesterday against the Steelers, those same units put the Ravens in a first-half hole and made life easy for Pittsburgh. Coach Brian Billick repeated a barnyard epithet to explain how his offense and defense were manhandled early, and he extended the description to special teams.

"On special teams," Billick said, "they also kicked the s--- out of us."

The struggle started with the opening kickoff, which Matt Stover could get only to the 14-yard line. The Ravens' first possession concluded with Dave Zastudil punting into the end zone instead of pooching. Robert Tate fumbled the Steelers' first two kickoffs, and Pittsburgh recovered the second, which led to a 15-yard touchdown drive and a 21-0 deficit one play into the second quarter.

The Ravens' misery didn't stop there.

After Stover finally got the Ravens on the scoreboard with a 28-yard field goal in the second quarter, he had to make a touchdown-saving tackle on a 37-yard kickoff return by Antwaan Randle El. Another short field meant the Steelers drove just 49 yards for their fourth and final touchdown. Cornell Brown contributed a unique daily double, as he was flagged for holding on a Ravens punt return and four plays later for holding on punt coverage, which was declined.

Courtesy of the Brown hold and a similar call against Ron Johnson on the Steelers' initial kickoff, the Ravens' started two of their first four possessions on their 10 and 11.

"When you start our offense back on the 10 twice, that hurts your percentage of putting any points on the board," Stover said. "We've got to eliminate those penalties, we've got to cover a little better and I've got to kick a little better. Everyone has to look at themselves and see where they have to go."

Even when things went right for the special teams, it was because something had gone wrong. Before he was brought down by Stover, Randle El found an open field.

"He was upset," Stover said of his tackle of Randle El. "He said, `That's never happened to me.' I said: `I want you to feel good about yourself, because any time I've been able to get to the guy, I've gotten him.' "

The Ravens' special teams execution improved in the second half, but it wasn't enough to overcome the first-half mistakes. The biggest was the fumble lost by Tate, who was replaced by rookie Lamont Brightful.

"I've just got to come back and get ready for next week," said Tate, who was signed by the Ravens in August.

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