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  Ravens Sink to the Bottom

 Tennessee quarterback Steve McNair is sacked by Peter Boulware
 Tennessee quarterback Steve McNair is sacked by Peter Boulware.(Reuters)
By Ken Denlinger
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, October 12, 1998; Page C8

BALTIMORE, Oct. 11 – There was as much variety today at the Baltimore Ravens' stadium as football offers: a safety, one punt blocked and another one successfully returned from the end zone, a quarterback running 40 yards for the game's only touchdown. When the plays – both inspirational and boneheaded – ended, the Ravens once more had found familiar ground – last place in the AFC Central.

"We thought we could possibly separate ourselves from the pack, but we didn't," Ravens Coach Ted Marchibroda said after his team's 12-8 loss to the Tennessee Oilers. Baltimore, Tennessee and the Cincinnati Bengals have 2-3 records and are tied for last in the division, where the Ravens have finished the last two seasons.

The outcome left at least two Ravens – outside linebacker Peter Boulware and quarterback Eric Zeier – close to tears. Five poor snaps on punts – four one-hoppers and one too high – and a bad play on the Oiler who blocked a punt may well have cost long snapper Harper Le Bel his job.

Boulware and his defensive teammates generally played well, getting four sacks and a safety when defensive end Rob Burnett tackled quarterback Steve McNair in the end zone on the game's first possession. But McNair eluded Burnett late in the first quarter and escaped a couple of other tacklers for the 40-yard run that gave the Oilers the lead for good.

Zeier was part of an offense that gained only 36 yards on the ground and was just 1 for 15 on third down and 0 for 2 on fourth down. Missing were wide receiver Michael Jackson, who sprained a muscle near his groin during practice Friday, and tight end Eric Green, who suffered a ruptured air sac in his lung in the first half and was taken to the University of Maryland Shock Trauma unit. Ravens officials said he will be kept overnight "at least," and a hospital spokesman said Green was doing well.

The Oilers jump-started an anemic ground game and frequently were on the verge of blowing open the game. They never did, in part because of 141 yards in penalties and an interception by McNair inside the Baltimore 25 midway through the fourth quarter.

"They were the better team," Marchibroda acknowledged about a team Baltimore beat twice last season.

Why?

The injuries to two key parts of the passing game, Jackson and Green, and the absence of their best tackler, middle linebacker Ray Lewis, who missed his second straight game with a dislocated left elbow. Poor blocking at times and Zeier's first mediocre effort of the season also contributed.

"The Oilers do a good job the first half with different schemes, so it takes time to adjust," Zeier said. "The second half we did better [by going to a no-huddle offense]. But we just did a bad job all day long executing when we needed to."

Two sequences were most critical. Trailing early in the fourth quarter by what proved to be the final margin, the Ravens had three chances to gain a yard for a first down on the Oilers 41 – and couldn't do it. Each time Priest Holmes carried the ball and each time had nowhere to go.

With slightly more than two minutes remaining and no timeouts left, the Ravens got the ball on their 11 and took what the Oilers allowed – dumps to Holmes over the middle that produced first downs but forced Zeier to spike the ball to stop the clock. On fourth down from the Oilers 29 with three seconds left, Zeier threw short of the end zone and was intercepted.

Midway through the third quarter, the Oilers had doubled the 6-2 lead McNair provided on 26- and 29-yard field goals by Al Del Greco. But the Ravens countered with 21- and 45-yard field goals by Matt Stover before failing on late drives.

The special teams highlight was Baltimore's Bennie Thompson alertly grabbing the ball in the end zone after the Tennessee punt-coverage team failed to down it and returning it 38 yards. Typically, the drive fizzled when Zeier was sacked for a nine-yard loss on third down at the Oilers 36.

"For us," said the Ravens' Michael McCrary, "the whole game was a big play, trying to give the offense as many cracks as possible."

With eight tackles and two sacks, McCrary surely did his part. He also offered this analysis of the Ravens: "We're a good team that played poorly. We can't have one unit drop off. We're not at that level yet."

© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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