Tony Banks, making his debut as the Baltimore Ravens' starting quarterback, fumbled away the ball and his chance to lead the team to victory after his predecessors stumbled. His miscue in the fourth quarter set up the Bills' winning touchdown drive, and Buffalo came back to defeat Baltimore, 13-10, this afternoon before 68,673 at PSINet Stadium.
"You've got to take care of the ball," Ravens Coach Brian Billick said. "You've got to know that someone's chasing you and take care of the ball."
With 6 minutes 36 seconds remaining in the game, Baltimore got the ball on its 25-yard line with a 10-6 lead. The Ravens needed a prolonged drive to use up as much time as they could. But on third and four at the Baltimore 49, Banks could not find an open receiver and took off running. Just as he gained enough yards for the first down, Banks was hit by linebacker Gabe Northern. The ball popped out and was recovered by linebacker Sam Rogers.
"I was slowing up because I knew I had the first down," said Banks, who has fumbled the ball 47 times and thrown 43 interceptions in his four-year NFL career. "Gabe Northern just made a great play. It was a great play by him and a not-so-great play by me."
Buffalo took possession on the Ravens 45 with 3:25 remaining, but the drive soon stalled. The Bills, faced with fourth and 15, chose to go for it. The Ravens rushed three linemen and dropped eight players into a prevent defense, but that didn't stop Doug Flutie. He took off running and gained 17 yards on a broken play. Four plays later, Flutie found fullback Jonathan Linton in the end zone for a five-yard pass to give the Bills their first lead of the game.
"It's a real sickening feeling knowing that you worked all day and at the end you allow something like that to happen," defensive end Michael McCrary said. "Just shows you you've got to work every single play."
For three quarters, Banks held on to the ball and made some solid plays. His seven-yard touchdown pass to Justin Armour on the second possession of the game put the Ravens out in front, 7-0. The offensive line, which was at full strength for the first time in weeks, protected him well. But no matter how much time he had in the pocket, Banks rarely had anyone to whom he could throw the ball. His receivers struggled to put distance between themselves and the defensive backs. With limited opportunities to make plays, Banks finished the game 13 of 34 for 129 yards.
"It's not what I expected today," said Banks, who was handed the reins after Scott Mitchell and then Stoney Case faltered. "It's not what I went to bed dreaming about last night."
The fourth quarter proved to be Banks and the Ravens' undoing. On the second play of Baltimore's first possession, Banks tried to make something happen after a play broke down. Instead, he was hit on the arm as he released the ball. The pass fluttered into safety Kurt Schulz's hands. Buffalo drove the ball to the 1, but a personal foul on tackle John Fina and a sack by Ravens defensive end Rob Burnett pushed back the Bills. They settled for a 40-yard field goal by Steve Christie, which cut Baltimore's lead to 10-6.
Banks's two turnovers marred what had been an impressive performance by the defense. After not recording a turnover in their past three games, the Ravens picked off three of Flutie's passes. Rookie cornerback Chris McAlister made his third interception of the season.
Cornerback Duane Starks and safety Rod Woodson also had interceptions. However, only McAlister's interception in the first quarter led to a score--a 40-yard field goal by Matt Stover.