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  Ravens Make the Right Moves

Ravens Logo By Ken Denlinger
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, September 14, 1998; Page C8

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J., Sept. 13 – Much of what the Baltimore Ravens did in the offseason was validated today. They matched an offer by the Atlanta Falcons for backup quarterback Eric Zeier – and he came off the bench and led a 99-yard drive that gave them the lead for good against the New York Jets. They signed free agent cornerback Rod Woodson – and his 60-yard touchdown run with an interception midway through the fourth quarter provided a comfort level in a 24-10 victory.

The Ravens (1-1) made many changes in this one. Coach Ted Marchibroda went to Zeier late in the second quarter when Jim Harbaugh could not overcome problems with the ring finger and elbow on his throwing arm. Marchibroda replaced tailback Errict Rhett with Jay Graham when Zeier went in – and may well have fired Matt Stover after a missed 44-yard field goal early in the fourth quarter had another place kicker been on the roster.

Marchibroda said he would consider promoting Zeier and Graham for next week's road game against the Jacksonville Jaguars. He was upset with Stover, not for missing but for hesitating slightly before pushing the ball wide right. Stover has missed nine of his last 12 regular season field goal tries. The Ravens had Cary Blanchard in for a workout last Tuesday.

"It's on me right now," said Stover. "No excuses. I've been in this situation before [and recovered]. But if they feel like they can put themselves in a better position with someone else, they will do it."

Harbaugh had his finger in a cup of cold water and an ice pack strapped near his elbow after the game. "I felt like I could have found a way to win, but Ted concluded Eric gave us a better chance," he said. "It was the right call."

The game also marked a global change for the Ravens, from one of the most generous defenses in the NFL during their first two years to one that intercepted Glenn Foley three times and stopped the Jets (0-2) on fourth and two feet just before Zeier led the length-of-the-field momentum-swinger.

One of the constants was Jermaine Lewis's scoring a touchdown at Giants Stadium, this one on a 69-yard punt return midway through the first quarter that gave Baltimore a 7-0 lead. In a preseason game here against the Jets, he scored on 97-yard punt return and a 31-yard pass from Harbaugh.

"We actually played better last week," said Woodson, referring to the 20-13 loss at home to the Pittsburgh Steelers. "This one was kind of sloppy. The secondary gave up too many plays. But we won. That's the bottom line."

Last week, Woodson guessed right on a short pass by Pittsburgh but dropped a ball thrown directly at his chest that would have provided a touchdown and an early lead. Today, he guessed right twice and held onto the ball each time.

He cut in front of Keyshawn Johnson on the Jets' first possession of the second half, wrestled the ball away and returned it 16 yards to the New York 49. Stover eventually kicked a 29-yard field goal.

With the Ravens protecting a 17-10 lead three plays after fullback Roosevelt Potts lost a fumble near midfield, Woodson read perfectly a swing pass out of the backfield and was so free down the sideline after his 43rd career interception that he turned and skipped the final several yards to the end zone backward. Two interceptions for Woodson, 10 points for the Ravens.

The other Baltimore cornerback, DeRon Jenkins, had an end-zone interception with five minutes left that settled matters.

Two earlier possessions also thrilled Marchibroda. They came in the second quarter with the game tied at 7. From their 9, the Jets marched to first and goal at the Baltimore 3. First defensive end Michael McCrary and then linebacker Tyrus McCloud stopped running back Curtis Martin for one-yard gains and middle linebacker Ray Lewis made an ankle tackle as Martin was starting to dive on third down.

Jets Coach Bill Parcells said he thought about a field goal, but added: "If you can't make that play, you're in trouble. We're in trouble."

The Ravens had employed six defensive linemen – and Lewis knifed inside and had the first hit in a gang-tackle that put Martin back several inches.

Enter Zeier – and on first down, he lobbed the ball down the left sideline and Michael Jackson caught it on his fingertips for a 39-yard gain. Tight end Eric Green later made two nice catches, the last during a leap in the end zone for a 20-yard touchdown that gave Baltimore a 14-7 lead just before halftime.

© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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