Reverses Lead to Reversal of Fortune
By Ken Denlinger
BALTIMORE, Oct. 5 At halftime today, the Baltimore Ravens seemed poised for the announcement they so desperately want to deliver to the NFL: "We’re for real!" Then the Pittsburgh Steelers returned the second-half kickoff 97 yards for a touchdown on their way to 28 consecutive points and a 42-34 victory at Memorial Stadium.
The stunning Steelers reversal — from 17 points behind at halftime, 24-7, to an 11-point lead late in the third quarter, 35-24 — was accomplished, in large part, by three reverses that caught the Ravens off guard on the field and left them questioning each other in the clubhouse.
"If we don’t give the extra effort, we’ll just continue playing .500 ball," quarterback Vinny Testaverde said of the 3-3 Ravens, who trail the 3-2 Steelers and 4-1 Jacksonville Jaguars in the AFC Central. "We’ve got to take everything more seriously than what we’re doing. The entire team."
There were nine plays of 20 yards or longer and huge momentum swings, with the Ravens scoring the first three touchdowns of the game and the Steelers countering with the first four touchdowns of the second half.
Almost as upsetting as the outcome to Ravens officials was the fact that Pittsburgh fans accounted for at least 10,000 of the stadium-record crowd of 64,421 — and helped give the Steelers immense emotional lifts after Will Blackwell shocked everyone with that 97-yard kickoff run.
"When we went ahead" — 28-24, midway through the third quarter — "and kicked off into the end zone," said Steelers Coach Bill Cowher, "I thought we were at Three Rivers."
Quarterback play was pivotal. Testaverde threw three touchdown passes. But he was intercepted twice, was sacked four times and lost two fumbles that led to Pittsburgh touchdowns. Only one of the interceptions was Testaverde’s fault — and he said of the fumbles: "Either I’ve got to get rid of the ball quicker or [the offensive linemen] have to hold their blocks longer."
The turnaround by Pittsburgh’s Kordell Stewart was close to astonishing. He was intercepted three times in the first half, twice by cornerback Eugene Daniel, and each led to a Baltimore touchdown. From the 21-0 hole he helped dig, however, he threw three touchdown passes and ran 74 yards for the touchdown that all but ensured victory with 1 minute 47 seconds left.
Stewart’s run was the last of the three misdirection plays that embarrassed the Ravens. They had pulled to within 35-32 when Testaverde hit wide receiver Derrick Alexander from 10 yards for a touchdown and running back Earnest Byner for a two-point conversion.
"All we need is a field goal" to cause overtime, Ravens Coach Ted Marchibroda yelled from the sideline — and he patted at least a half-dozen of the defensive players needed to get the ball back. They were too eager to accomplish that.
On third and four, Stewart faked an end-around to wide receiver Yancy Thigpen that had the Baltimore defense hustling to its left. Stewart ran the other way, stepped out of a tackle by Daniel near the line of scrimmage and won a sprint to the end zone.
"I started thinking about all the fines that I might have to pay if I got caught," Stewart said, "so I had to suck it up and put it into extra gear."
The Ravens drove back, but tight end Eric Green lost a fumble after gaining 29 yards to the Pittsburgh 8 with 59 seconds left. Cowher gave the Ravens a chance for a tie by ordering a safety with 11 seconds left. But cornerback Donnell Woolford intercepted Testaverde’s desperation pass at the Steelers 6.
Marchibroda was frustrated that the Ravens failed to increase their 21-0 lead midway through the second quarter. He was livid at Blackwell’s play for two reasons: He’d warned the Ravens about the possibility of a comeback and special teams coach Scott O’Brien had said to look out for a reverse or fake reverse if Thigpen was on the field for the kickoff.
Thigpen was there — and special teams ace Bennie Thompson spotted him. But when Blackwell faked the ball to Thigpen, the left side of the Baltimore kickoff team left their lanes in hot pursuit and Blackwell had an uncluttered path to the end zone.
That narrowed the Ravens’ lead to 24-14. A 90-yard drive that featured a 37-yard pass to Thigpen, after a fake reverse, and a 22-yard drive, after one of Testaverde’s fumbles, provided a 28-24 lead. A touchdown pass to Charles Johnson, on third and goal from the 17, lifted the lead to 35-24.
Baltimore has a bye next week and Marchibroda said the time will be spent "getting back to basics."
© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company