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 1997 Season Review

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  Ravens Top Oilers for Third Straight

Ravens Helmet By Ken Denlinger
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, September 22, 1997; Page C1

MEMPHIS, Sept. 21 -- To the immense surprise of almost everyone -- except themselves -- the Baltimore Ravens are among the NFL's better teams. That became evident after they forced five turnovers today and beat the Tennessee Oilers, 36-10, before 17,737 at the Liberty Bowl for their third consecutive victory.

So sweet was rising from the near-weekly frustration of their first season in Baltimore and dominating a team that had handled them rather easily twice last season that Ravens owner Art Modell threw his arm around Coach Ted Marchibroda in the clubhouse and kissed him on the cheek. But the joy of their 3-1 record was mixed with caution.

"Weíve got to remember that the team down the road from us [the Washington Redskins] started 7-1 last year," said quarterback Vinny Testaverde, "and didnít make the playoffs."

Matt Stover
AP Photo
The Ravens had the best blend of offense and defense in their 20-game history. Testaverdeís 318 passing yards included two touchdowns to wide receiver Derrick Alexander (pictured) and one to wide receiver Jermaine Lewis. Matt Stover made five field goals and contributed to the impressive defensive effort with a touchdown-saving tackle on a kickoff.

"Got me a boo-boo," said the 178-pound Stover, pointing to a bruise near his left elbow suffered while grabbing Derrick Mason after a 54-yard return and wrestling him out of bounds. "I told him, 'Iíve not been scored on yet -- and youíre not going to do it.' "

Baltimoreís defense has been playing something close to that tune after halftime of most games. It has allowed a total of just 18 second-half points, none of them today. And one of the leagueís best runners, Eddie George, was held to 40 yards even with run-stopping defensive tackle Tony Siragusa sidelined for all but four minutes with a strained tendon in his left ankle.

"We have pass rushers who can play the run," said defensive end Michael McCrary, "and you canít beat that. We play the run when we need to, but we canít wait for them to pass."

Larry Webster, who was suspended all of last season for violating the NFLís substance-abuse program, replaced Siragusa and the defense still played well.

"Looking back to where I was," Webster said, "Iím in awe of myself."

The offense also did not falter when tight end Eric Green limped off with a hamstring injury about midway through the first quarter. Brian Kinchen, dropped to a backup role behind Green two weeks ago, caught four passes for 38 yards.

Siragusa, who left the stadium with his ankle in a cast, suffered the injury returning a fumble caused by defensive end Rob Burnett that led to the first points by the Ravens, Sto verís 38-yard field goal. The Oilers (1-2) quickly took the lead, on a 36-yard touchdown catch by former Maryland star Frank Wycheck, but then faded through a combination of fumbles and Testaverde passes.

Rookie linebacker Peter Boulware forced quarterback Steve McNair to hurry a pass on the first play of the second quarter and rookie linebacker Jamie Sharper turned it into an interception. Alexander soon scored his first touchdown after grabbing a short pass, twisting by cornerback Tomur Barnes and completing the 25-yard play with a dash into the end zone.

From that 10-7 lead, the Ravens kept building. Testaverde led a 12-play drive from the Baltimore 11 that ended with him buying time in the pocket on second and goal from the 5 and hitting Alexander in the right side of the end zone.

Matt Stover
AP Photo
Stover (pictured) made 42- and 49-yard field goals to increase Baltimoreís lead to 23-10 late in the third quarter. Then Lewis set up the drive that ensured victory with a 45-yard punt return to the Tennessee 44. Six plays later, from the 16, Testaverde lofted the ball to the back of the end zone and Lewis ran by cornerback Darryll Lewis and caught it with 10 minutes 57 seconds left.

The lead was safe enough for Marchibroda to use rookie running back Jay Graham and the former Tennessee standout responded with 51 yards on nine carries. Bam Morris, the starter at running back before being suspended four games by the league for violating its substance-abuse policy, will return to the team Monday.

Marchibroda and the players had insisted through a winless preseason that the team was capable of winning regularly.

"And the great thing about this," said Burnett, "is that weíre not even close to playing our best ball."

© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company

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