In the End, an Unpleasant Trip for Zeier
By Ken Denlinger
JACKSONVILLE, Fla., Nov. 30 The path to the two-point conversion run that would have tied the game with 78 seconds left had broken remarkably wide for Baltimore Ravens backup quarterback Eric Zeier.
"A walk-in," Zeier said, who played in the second half after starter Vinny Testaverde strained a ligament in his left knee just before halftime.
What Zeier did not see as he broke to his left was teammate Jonathan Ogden's foot. Zeier tripped over it and was quickly downed, and the Jacksonville Jaguars escaped with a 29-27 victory before 63,712 at Alltel Stadium.
This was the fourth consecutive time the Ravens have come agonizingly close to beating the Jaguars. The total margin of defeat: nine points.
"We're not happy," Ravens Coach Ted Marchibroda said. "But we can leave with our heads high."
The Ravens (4-8-1) avoided falling into last place in the AFC Central because the Cincinnati Bengals lost to the Philadelphia Eagles. The Jaguars (9-4) are tied with Pittsburgh atop the division.
Testaverde watched from the sideline in the second half, and tests on his knee will be done Monday. Marchibroda defused any quarterback speculation by saying Testaverde, if healthy, would start Sunday against the Seattle Seahawks. Zeier did not protest.
"As a competitor, you want to play," he said. "But my top priority is helping the team win. I'm not here to start a controversy. I'm here to try to win games."
Testaverde played well, completing 11 of 17 passes and leading the well-covered Jermaine Lewis perfectly on a 21-yard touchdown connection. When asked if he senses competition from Zeier, Testaverde paused, offered a tight smile and said: "No comment."
Momentum swings were large in this game. The Ravens jumped to a 14-3 lead on a 40-yard interception return for a touchdown by cornerback Antonio Langham and the scoring pass from Testaverde to Lewis. The Jaguars then scored 26 straight points and seemed to have matters well in hand midway through the fourth quarter.
But Zeier rallied the Ravens to two touchdowns after being manhandled by the Jaguars early on. The first touchdown was a one-yard dive by rookie fullback Kenyon Cotton after a 72-yard drive that featured a 23-yard catch-and-run by wideout James Roe and a 32-yard pass interference penalty on Jacksonville cornerback Dave Thomas.
"It took a while to get comfortable," said Zeier, who was sacked three times before he completed a pass, "because I haven't had many reps with the first unit."
Wideout Michael Jackson helped Zeier with a leaping catch of a sideline pass for 23 yards to start the potential tying drive with just under five minutes left. Three completions by Zeier and four runs by Earnest Byner moved the ball to the Jacksonville 7. Then on second down, Zeier rolled right and hit tight end Eric Green in the right corner of the end zone, cutting the Jacksonville lead to 29-27.
The call on the two-point conversion was a quarterback draw. Normally, Zeier would have dropped back a step or two and bolted up the middle. But Jaguars defensive end Tony Brackens crashed inside on left tackle Ogden. That left everything outside Ogden open.
"I think the defensive end's hand got me," Zeier said. "But I could be completely wrong." Ogden thought so. "I felt something," he said. "I think I tackled him as much as anyone." For the game, the Jaguars had 24 plays that gained at least eight yards and quarterback Mark Brunell completed 25 of 40 passes for 317 yards and one touchdown.
"After a couple of series," Brunell said, "we realized we could pretty much do what we wanted."
Up to a point. Baltimore's defense forced five field goal tries-and Mike Hollis hit all of them.
Neither team's ground game was productive. The best run of the game was Langham's dash after catching a ball that bounced off wideout Jimmy Smith on Jacksonville's first possession. Langham weaved in and out near the middle of the field before cutting right at the 10 and using blocks by Stevon Moore and Ralph Staten and some other assistance to slip into the end zone.
"The one good thing about this team is that we refuse to be dominated by anybody," Langham said. "Just because we don't have an opportunity to make the playoffs doesn't mean we have to lay down."
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