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 1997 Season Review

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  Ravens Start Off a Bit Short

Ravens Helmet By Ken Denlinger
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, September 1, 1997; Page C1

BALTIMORE, Aug. 31 – In the start of their second season today, the Baltimore Ravens were as frustrated as they were through most of their first. Once more, they lost a fourth-quarter lead. Once more they failed to convert game-turning chances near the end and lost, 28-27, to the Jacksonville Jaguars before 61,018 in Memorial Stadium.

"We should have won . . . . Thereís enough blame for everybody," said Ravens Coach Ted Marchibroda, referring to the defense letting first-time Jaguars starter Rob Johnson throw two scoring passes and run 25 yards for another touchdown, and the offense failing to muster anything with three chances in the final five-plus minutes.

Individually, Ravens quarterback Vinny Testaverde threw three touchdown passes but was intercepted three times, including late in the game. Rookie linebackers Peter Boulware and Jamie Sharper were out of position during drives that put Jacksonville up 14 points in the first quarter. And the defensive backs allowed far too many long gains, including Johnsonís 28-yard touchdown pass to a very open Jimmy Smith for the winning points midway through the fourth quarter.

Marchibroda was as visibly angry as anyone could remember in his 30-plus years in the NFL, including an earlier stint as coach here with the Baltimore Colts. He insisted that "these are not the same old Ravens," but "we didnít do what had to be done. Thatís the damn difference" in the game.

But there also were brilliant performances, among them the all-around play of Johnson, even though he was forced to leave the game briefly with a sprained left ankle. Also, Ravens wide receiver Jermaine Lewis had touchdown catches of 17 and 42 yards and another 137 yards returning kicks.

This was the third straight time the Ravens have failed to hold leads late against Jacksonville and the ninth time in their past 11 games overall since last season. The Ravensí final play, a potential first-down pass from Testaverde that wide receiver Michael Jackson said he caught but an official ruled otherwise, typified their misery.

Baltimore seemed doomed after Testaverde was intercepted by cornerback Deon Figures with 2 minutes 1 second left. However, rookie free safety Kim Herring caused running back Natron Means to fumble and defensive end Mike Frederick recovered the ball at the Jacksonville 42 with 1:08 left.

After two incompletions and a sack, Testaverde was faced with fourth and 18. Had the pass to Jackson near the left sideline been complete, the Ravens would have had a first down by a yardóand more than enough time to move into position for a field goal attempt by Matt Stover.

"Thereís no question I caught it," said Jackson. "Iím 103 percent sure."

But the official ruled that Jackson trapped the low ball at the Jaguars 31óand replays seemed inconclusive. Jackson said the official who judged the pass incomplete was the same one he had argued with near the end of the first half for not calling a penalty on Jacksonville cornerback Dave Thomas.

"If we get fined," Jackson said, "I feel they should be fined for making calls like that."

The Jaguars ran off to a 14-0 lead on their first two possessions, as Johnson passed well and took advantage of the inexperienced Boulware and Sharper. On third and three from the Baltimore 25, Johnson took off running from shotgun formation and eluded defensive backs Donny Brady and DeRon Jenkins before carrying safety Stevon Moore into the end zone.

The second drive was a 93-yard grinder that featured a one-hand catch by fullback Ty Hallock and ended with Means bullying in from a yard.

But Testaverde and Lewis had the game tied by early in the second quarter. Lewis caught a long floater just short of the end zone after running by two Jacksonville defenders for his first touchdown and broke free from Figures near the end zone for his second.

Johnson put the Jaguars ahead, 21-14, with a 20-yarder to Smith with 68 seconds left in the second quarter. And Stover hit a 33-yard field goal for the Ravens on the last play before halftime.

Jackson put the Ravens ahead, 24-21, early in the third quarter by taking a short pass and, aided by a block from fellow wide receiver Derrick Alexander, completed the rest of the 54-yard play. Stover later hit a 25-yard field goal with 8:46 left in the fourth quarter after Marchibroda surprised the crowd by passing on the first two downs and running on the third from the Jacksonville 5.

© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company

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