Starters not first-rate

Play of Ravens reserves in 2nd half overcomes miscues in preseason win

Ravens 20 Eagles 10

August 18, 2006|By JAMISON HENSLEY | JAMISON HENSLEY,SUN REPORTER

A day after breaking training camp, the Ravens realized they still have a lot to learn.

From the inexplicable play call in their hurry-up offense to critical penalties on defense, the Ravens' starters were less-than-thrilled in last night's 20-10 preseason win over the Philadelphia Eagles at M&T Bank Stadium.

After last week's masterpiece drive in the preseason opener, the Ravens offense looked far from artful on the final two possessions of the first half. It was a series of mishaps that included quarterback Steve McNair tripping over a lineman on one play and then fumbling after getting stripped from behind on another.

But the most bizarre happening occurred at the end of the first half, when the Ravens surprisingly ran the ball on third down instead of stopping the clock deep in Eagles territory. Without any timeouts, the Ravens failed to get off their field-goal attempt as time expired in the first half.

"We had plenty of time," said coach Brian Billick, whose Ravens evened their preseason record at 1-1. "[The officials] didn't get it spotted. I guess it's preseason for them, too. We can't complain. We made our fair share of mistakes."

McNair wasn't as strong as in his debut, but his encore was efficient in one half of work.

He completed 14 of 18 passes (78 percent) for 148 yards, re-connecting several times with his old Tennessee Titans receiver Derrick Mason (seven catches for 72 yards).

In one of the more encouraging signs of the night, McNair had the Ravens in Eagles territory on all four of his drives, three of which ended at the Philadelphia 23-yard line or closer. The only trouble was the Ravens came away with just one field goal.

"We've got to finish [drives] now. That's the main ingredient," said McNair, who had a 100-plus rating for the second consecutive game. "There's no sense in going out there and taking six or seven minutes off the clock and not getting anything from it. We've just got to dig down deep and get the ball in the end zone."

On his first series, McNair moved the Ravens to the Eagles' 38, where his third-down pass went behind tight end Todd Heap and got knocked down.

On his second one, he converted three third downs with intermediate passes, but running back Mike Anderson was stopped behind the line on third-and-one. The Ravens settled for a Matt Stover 30-yard field goal to cut Philadelphia's lead to 10-3 midway through the second quarter.

The last two possessions by the starting offense made Billick cringe.

McNair fumbled at the Philadelphia 30 when Eagles defensive end Jevon Kearse beat tackle Tony Pashos and stripped McNair from behind. The Ravens' offense got the ball right back after linebacker Ray Lewis poked it away from running back Reno Mahe.

"I got a pretty good swipe on the man," said Lewis, who missed the final 10 games of last season with a torn hamstring. "It felt so good because my crowd got energized again. It's just good to be back on the football field."

Three completions moved the Ravens to the Eagles' 17, where confusion began to reign. Without no timeouts, the Ravens ran the ball on third-and-three instead of throwing it (an incompletion would have stopped the clock).

As the final 12 seconds ticked, the Ravens tried to rush their field-goal team on the field but time expired before Stover could attempt a 33-yarder.

Stover said the biggest mistake was the officials trying to change balls, which wasted several seconds. The officials later admitted they were wrong to do so, Stover said.

"We would have been able to execute if we had the ball," Stover said.

McNair said he wasn't shocked that the Ravens put themselves in such a sticky situation.

"We practice that," he said. "I think we had enough time to get a field goal after the run play. It just didn't happen. I think the referees were the key to that. So I blame them."

Mistakes weren't isolated to the offense.

Even with the return of Ray Lewis -- who received strong applause after his forced fumble -- and the debut of first-round pick Haloti Ngata, the Ravens' starting defense was extremely sloppy.

Penalties hurt the Ravens defense on its first series, as the Eagles jumped out to a 10-0 first-quarter lead.

The officials' flags began flying on the first offensive play of the game. Ravens cornerback Samari Rolle was called for pass interference, a questionable call considering Rolle was in front of Philadelphia receiver Darnerien McCants and nearly intercepted the pass.

That 33-yard penalty represented half of the yards on the Eagles' opening drive, which ended with a 43-yard field goal by David Akers.

"He had position and he looked back to make the play," defensive coordinator Rex Ryan said. "I'm not sure how else to coach that one."

Philadelphia's second drive resulted in a touchdown, even though the Eagles shouldn't have crossed midfield.

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