Special Teams Played 'Like Our Hair Was On Fire'

November 02, 2009|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,ken.murray@baltsun.com

On the day the Ravens rediscovered the joy of victory, everything came together for Jerry Rosburg's schizophrenic special teams.

Steve Hauschka didn't miss, Eddie Royal didn't run and Lardarius Webb weaved like a champ.

"We were playing like our hair was on fire," Jameel McClain said about the smothering effort of the Ravens' special teamers in Sunday's 30-7 rout of the Denver Broncos. It was as apt a description as any.

Indeed, the Ravens swarmed to Royal, one of the NFL's most dangerous kick returners. He was stopped three times inside the Denver 20 on kickoff returns and got just five yards out of two punt returns.

The description also fit Hauschka, who cost the Ravens a comeback victory in Minnesota when he missed a 44-yard field-goal attempt at the end of the game. But he made three straight field goals at distances of 43, 35 and 31 Sunday to cool the fires of discontent.

But the player whose hair was burning most might have been Webb, the slender rookie from Nicholls State in Louisiana, who gave the Ravens a charge to start the second half with an electric 95-yard kick return for a touchdown.

Webb weaved the last 20 yards while glancing over his shoulder at the Broncos' pursuit. His first NFL touchdown gave the Ravens a 13-0 lead. It was just the fourth touchdown on a kickoff return in team history and the first since Yamon Figurs went 94 yards against the Indianapolis Colts in 2007. Webb gave the credit to his teammates.

"I just ran," he said. "They blocked so good on that, it was like all 10 men got their man. They blocked so good, there were holes everywhere and I just hit one of them."

On what was supposed to be an angle return, Webb saw an opening up the middle - "instinct," he called it - and wasted no time getting through. He was never touched, even though the Broncos were closing at the end.

That run was validation of the Ravens' decision to put Webb in on kickoffs, even though they had signed veteran Chris Carr for the job in the offseason.

"The design [of the return] gave him some freedom and he saw the opening and took it," Rosburg said.

"I thought he set it up real well. He did a nice job of running to a point, then bent it back where the crease was. That's where the vision comes in. That's what great returners have; they have the ability to bring the ball one direction and see what's happening behind them."

Webb wasn't ready for a coronation. "No mark made," he protested. "I'm just a rookie. This is just the beginning. I hope for many more. I've just got to go back to work."

Counting a 17-yard return later in the third quarter, Webb is averaging 30.3 yards on kick returns. He also got a handful of plays at nickel back spelling Carr, who recorded his first NFL sack.

The performance of the special teams was welcome relief for a team that has struggled to cover kicks and return them in the past two years. During the bye week, Rosburg challenged his troops.

"He showed us the stats," Tavares Gooden said. "He said we had worked too hard and we knew we could do better than that."

The fact that the Ravens held Royal in check - he averaged just 18.7 yards on six kick returns - was confirmation. Royal got the ball across the 30-yard line only once. The kick coverage dictated field position that the Ravens enjoyed the entire game.

"It was 10 guys to the ball every time," Tom Zbikowski said. "It was basically everyone having each other's back, running down full speed, getting off their blocks and getting down the field. ... Obviously we want to get better every single week. If we keep getting better, it's going to be scary."

Rosburg played down his challenge, saying it was more a group recognition of the facts.

"It wasn't a eureka moment necessarily - 'We got it figured out now.' That wasn't it," he said. "I think everybody realized we could be a lot better than we had been and they understand that the little things matter a lot. The good news is they showed up today and did it. I'm real proud of them."

Remember when?

The last time a Raven returned a kickoff for a touchdown was when Yamon Figurs did it on Dec. 9, 2007, against the Indianapolis Colts. He took the kick back 94 yards.

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