Lewis Helps Return Team to Winning
By Ken Denlinger
BALTIMORE, Dec. 7 The Baltimore Ravens have done precious little to excite the NFL during their two years here. That changed today, when they put together a highlight package that included two punt returns for touchdowns by Jermaine Lewis in one quarter, a 92-yard pass play and 302 yards passing by backup quarterback Eric Zeier that could have earned him a start next week.
There was more: four quarterback sacks and four interceptions. True to their form, however, the Ravens kept hope alive for the Seattle Seahawks until the final seconds before snapping a five-game winless streak, 31-24, before 54,395 in Memorial Stadium.
"Pretty wild out there," Lewis said.
It certainly was. Lewis became just the ninth player in NFL history — and the third this season — to return two punts for touchdowns in one game. He pulled off the 89-yarder midway through the second quarter and, just to make matters interesting, stumbled and almost fell near midfield before righting himself and outrunning everyone to the end zone. The 66-yarder was a tightrope sprint down the right sideline near the end of the period.
In all, Lewis, out of Eleanor Roosevelt High in Greenbelt and the University of Maryland, had 184 yards in punt returns, the third-best in the NFL for one game. He had 91 yards in kickoff returns and caught a 29-yard touchdown pass. His 308 total yards were 93 more than the team record he set in the opening game this season.
So it was no surprise that he admitted, about a half-hour after the game: "I'm whipped."
Zeier, subbing for the injured Vinny Testaverde, also was brilliant. His touchdown pass to Lewis lifted the Ravens into a 24-24 tie late in the third quarter. His long spiral that Derrick Alexander took in stride and stretched into a 92-yard gain set up what proved to be the decisive touchdown, a one-yard run by Bam Morris early in the fourth quarter.
Almost as significant was what Zeier did not do. He had no interceptions — and the bobbled snap that Seattle linebacker Chad Brown scooped up and ran 42 yards with for a touchdown late in the second quarter was center Wally Williams's fault. A sack in the end zone for a safety early in the second quarter came because two Seahawks blew by blockers.
Ravens Coach Ted Marchibroda said he will wait until Wednesday before deciding who starts against the Tennessee Oilers here Sunday. Zeier replaced Testaverde when he was injured against the Jacksonville Jaguars last week — and generated two late touchdowns in the 29-27 loss. Marchibroda had said Testaverde would start against Seattle, but that changed late in the week when the injury failed to heal quickly enough.
Testaverde could have played in an emergency today and should be close to full strength by Wednesday, when on-the-field preparations start. Of Zeier, Marchibroda said: "It seems like the more he plays, the better he gets."
Zeier clearly would like to start — and so would fans who frequently chanted his name. But he remained diplomatic.
"My job is to help the team however I can," he said. "Whatever happens, happens."
What happened on the field today was a lot of exciting back-and-forth. There were five lead chances, but neither team could get ahead by more than seven points. Seattle starter Warren Moon was sacked three times and intercepted once. Backup John Friesz was intercepted three times and sacked once.
Most encouraging for the Ravens (5-8-1) was the play of several rookies and young veterans. Rookie strongside linebacker Peter Boulware had two sacks, for a total of 15 yards in losses, and rookie weakside linebacker Jamie Sharper's seven tackles included a sack.
In his first start, rookie safety Ralph Staten had two interceptions. Both were thrown right at him, but he still earned a game ball. So did cornerback DeRon Jenkins, who has not progressed as quickly as the coaches would like after being selected in 1996.
"Maybe this first interception will give him the confidence he needs," Marchibroda said.
The Seahawks (6-8) had a chance to force overtime when the Ravens' Matt Stover was wide right on a 42-yard field goal with 65 seconds left. But Friesz's desperate pass from his 46-yard line with 15 seconds was intercepted by rookie backup linebacker Cornell Brown.
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