Ravens Lose a Game and Likely a Coach
By Ken Denlinger
NASHVILLE, Dec. 6 Baltimore Ravens Coach Ted Marchibroda walked alone toward the dressing room early this evening, his left hand in his pocket and his right hand swinging a suddenly useless collection of plays. He had lost three starting offensive linemen at various times to injuries, lost a desperate comeback try and, almost certainly, lost any chance to remain as coach once the season ends.
"It's a tough league, men," he said of the accummulated misery that led to the 16-14 AFC Central loss to the Tennessee Oilers. With a 5-8 record, the Ravens cannot finish above .500 for the season and a team source has said that will not be enough for Machibroda, 67, to be rehired. No announcement about Marchibroda's future is expected until the season ends.
The Ravens were dreadful the first half, allowing the Oilers (7-6) to score on their first three possessions and gain a 13-0 lead on a two-yard touchdown run by Eddie George and two 48-yard field goals by Al Del Greco. But quarterback Jim Harbaugh threw 66- and 20-yard touchdown passes to wide receiver Floyd Turner, the latter coming with just under two minutes remaining after another Del Greco field goal had given Tennessee a 16-7 lead.
With all three timeouts left, Marchibroda chose a long kickoff instead of a short squib after Turner's touchdown and the Ravens eventually had the ball at their 18 with 68 seconds left. But Harbaugh's long pass over the middle toward Turner was tipped and ended up being intercepted by backup safety Steve Jackson at the Tennessee 37.
Safety Blaine Bishop blitzed Harbaugh and forced him to throw early. Harbaugh wanted to pump-fake toward Turner and throw to the right toward wide receiver James Roe, but there wasn't time.
Turner's first touchdown, the 66-yarder midway through the third quarter, was the play of the game. He leaped over cornerback Denard Walker and grabbed Harbaugh's long pass down the right sideline at about the Tennessee 40, then cut left and outran the defenders to the goal line.
It was a quick strike and a dramatic contrast to the ineffectiveness by the offense for the first 38 minutes.
"We can't play almost 60 minutes," Turner said. "We have to finish the game."
The Ravens began the game with their starting wide receivers, Jermaine Lewis and Michael Jackson, injured and inactive. Center Wally Williams (neck) went down near the end of the first quarter and later was joined on the sideline by right guard Jeff Blackshear (groin) and left tackle Jonathan Ogden (multiple-ligament ankle sprain). If Blackshear had not returned to the reshuffled line in the fourth quarter, tight end Eric Green would have been forced to play tackle.
Right tackle Orlando Brown also suffered a multiple-ligament ankle sprain but played the entire game. He left the dressing room on crutches and was scheduled to join Ogden for additional X-rays when the team arrived in Baltimore.
Harbaugh was sacked six times for 51 yards and missed one play after falling hard on his left arm. Neither he nor Marchibroda totally blamed a lack of protection.
"One time it would be protection," Marchibroda said. "Next time [a receiver] wouldn't be open. Next time was a batted ball. But say one thing for the ballclub they fought back and fought hard."
There was more after-the-play contact than usual and the officials seemed close to letting matters get out of hand. At one point, referee Ed Hochuli went to each bench and, Harbaugh said, "asked if we'd play nice. I said, 'Well, just call the penalties. That's how you stop that.'‚"
Baltimore finally stopped the Oilers near the end of the half and limited them to a 34-yard field goal by Del Greco with 3:34 left that proved enough to recover from a last-second setback to the Seattle Seahawks last week and snap a two-game losing streak.
In sweeping the Ravens this season, Tennessee held them to a combined 3 for 26 on third downs. In the first half today, Harbaugh had just 34 passing yards and tailback Priest Holmes had six yards on six carries.
"I don't know if we were quite ready for what they did, even though we should have been," Harbaugh said. "They didn't do anything different."
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