When opportunity knocked, Ravens finally answered

Ravens 16 Texans 15

Ravens Gameday

December 05, 2005|By DAVID STEELE

This would have been the most embarrassing loss in Ravens history. It would have turned the temperature under Brian Billick's seat up to "incinerate." The next era in Ravens football could have begun as early as today.

But the NFL has no column in the standings for wouldas, couldas or shouldas, and for that, the Ravens should be thankful. For that, and for the fact that for the most part, the players really didn't quit, as much of a cliche as that is. And that on the rare occasions they can get him close enough, Matt Stover is automatic.

And that the Houston Texans, a team of stupefying ineptitude on the field and the sidelines, gave yesterday's game to them.

The Ravens players and coaches can keep talking about learning something from every game (even losses in which you've trailed 34-0), but the lesson they took out of yesterday's stomach-churning, 16-15 victory at M&T Bank Stadium -- No. 4 for the season for those who are still counting -- is simple enough that they all probably knew it already.

When opportunity falls out of the sky and lands in your hands, don't drop it.

For Adalius Thomas, it came out of the cold, windy air midway through the fourth quarter, in the form of a deflected pass from the Texans' beleaguered yet effective quarterback, David Carr. "It took the ball a couple of days to come down," Thomas joked.

He hung on to it and ran it back for what seemed at the time to be the game-breaking touchdown. His team still barely held on to the win, but it held on.

The Ravens hung on to every break the same way, and they came from the Texans and the football gods by the bushel, enough to cancel out the Ravens' own gaffes -- for which, among many others, B.J. Sams is grateful.

The drive to their only other touchdown was extended by three defensive penalties, including two personal fouls. Houston mishandled not one, not two, but three punts. On three separate trips inside the Ravens' 20, the Texans fumbled a snap, were called for a false start and then for a hold. They hit Sams after he'd called for a fair catch on a fourth-quarter kickoff.

The Texans were the most generous in the fourth quarter: the batted ball that Thomas turned into a touchdown, Andre Johnson's dropped pass in the end zone, a Carr pass that sailed over Jabar Gaffney's head when he was wide-open in the end zone and the gamble of an all-out blitz on the game-winning drive.

On the first and last of those plays, the Ravens' eyes surely lit up. On the two others, their lives likely flashed before their eyes.

"You live by the sword and die by the sword," said Texans coach Dom Capers, who ought to be getting very familiar with swords, with his team being a collective 16 seconds away from winning its past two games and finding a way to lose anyway.

As for the Ravens, if you can't beat the giblets out of a 1-10 team on your home field, you might as well win by the narrowest margin possible, at the last second, by any means necessary. It sure beats the alternative.

Kyle Boller won't see too many better opportunities than the ones the Texans gave him on that final drive. The blitz might have been the most pointless risk a coach has taken all season, with the lead in the final minute against an opponent with no timeouts and a quarterback with no history of clutch play.

Then again, Boller has rarely, if ever, shown he could make a team pay for such a risk. He did this time. Mark Clayton, the overdue rookie, made the Texans pay even more.

Having let a season's worth of chances get away, the Ravens' players recognized how much fortune was smiling on them this time. They also knew they had made their own breaks and capitalized on the ones they got. Every sign pointed to this just not being their day, and they ignored each one.

"We had opportunities to put points on the board, and we didn't," said Derrick Mason, who contributed with a couple of drops. "We felt the defense did their job and made them kick field goals. We did think that, with enough time, we could drive the length of the field and put Matt in position for a field goal. So I don't think anybody ever panicked."

True. From getting out of bounds to lining up quickly enough to spike the ball, to making the right calls and plays on every key snap, the Ravens were poised precisely when they had to be.

In the other locker room, there was little more than pain. "Last week, at least St. Louis could move the ball a little bit," groused Texans cornerback Dunta Robinson. "This team, they couldn't even move the ball on us. So for this to happen, it hurts a lot worse than it did last week."

Wow. When the 1-11 guys are dogging your play, you've had a rotten season.

But talk is cheap. Wins, even against one-win teams, speak volumes. This win for the Ravens shouted, "Whew!"

david.steele@baltsun.com

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