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Cardinals 16, Ravens 13

Game 12: Ravens left at no loss for words

Players, Marchibroda bluntly call for change after raising Arizona; 'We're missing some pride'; Last-play kick wins it; lack of depth exposed

By Mike Preston

Sun reporter

November 24, 1997

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The Ravens have reached such a low point that the finger-pointing is about to begin. After Joe Nedney kicked a 43-yard field goal as time expired to lift the Arizona Cardinals to a 16-13 win over the Ravens at Memorial Stadium yesterday, the Ravens weren't without excuses but also had a few other descriptive words, expletives deleted.

Try embarrassed. Then there was dismal. The phrase "stunk up the joint" came up repeatedly. Inconsistent. Awful.

Hardly any team should lose to the Arizona Cardinals. Only two had. The Ravens became No. 3 yesterday, and coach Ted Marchibroda was pretty direct about the team's major problem of depth. Defensive tackle Tony Siragusa also was blunt, challenging some of his teammates' integrity.

"I'm not going to come out and tell you that we're not a good football team at the beginning of the season and coach them all the way through," Marchibroda said when asked about the team's 4-7-1 season. "I believe in being positive with these guys, but it's tough sometimes. It's an uphill battle.

"There's going to have to be some changes made. There's no question. I think the thing that hurt us is the lack of competition. I know what it takes to win in the National Football League, and we're not there yet. We missed opportunities, and we don't play smart football. The worst thing is that we're out of it [playoffs]. That's the only thing that matters."

Siragusa said: "We have no place to go from here but up. We're missing some pride. We need to put a mirror in everybody's locker so they can take a look at themselves after games, practices and meetings.

"I'm embarrassed right now, especially for the coaches. Now, I'm going to get a lot of phone calls from around the league. Other players are going to ask, 'What happened?' "

This is what happened: The Ravens had offensive problems. Again. They had special teams problems. Again. The Cardinals (3-9) gambled and won, and the Ravens' defense, which has played well for the past month, couldn't stop a team when it needed to because the secondary was depleted by injuries.

Sound familiar?

Roll the tape from the Ravens' 10-10 tie with the Philadelphia Eagles last week, when a quarterback named Bobby Hoying led the Eagles on a 60-yard drive in the closing minutes of regulation to tie the game and send it to overtime.

"You can play well all you want, but if you don't get it done when it counts, when it really, really counts, then you have failed," said Ravens middle linebacker Ray Lewis, who again led the way defensively with 11 tackles.

This time, the quarterback was a rookie named Jake Plummer, and most of the day the Ravens had harassed or hurried him into a number of errant passes.

But with 12: 41 left in the game, Plummer (19-for-34, 218 yards) led the Cardinals from their own 31 down to the Ravens' 9. Ravens cornerback DeRon Jenkins made two great plays on the next two downs, and cornerback Antonio Langham tackled wide receiver Rob Moore at the 4 to force a fourth-and-goal.

Trailing 10-6 with less than nine minutes left, the Cardinals decided to go for it. Plummer then threw a slant-in pass to a diving Frank Sanders, who split Jenkins and safety Ralph Staten for a touchdown that put the Cardinals ahead 13-10 with 8: 34 left in the game.

"If it had been fourth-and-nine, we probably would have gone for a field goal. But we had made 5 yards on the previous play," Cardinals coach Vince Tobin said.

There seemed to be a mix-up on the coverage between Jenkins and Staten.

"I prefer not to comment on that," Jenkins said.

There should have been a lot of confusion. At that point, the Ravens were without starting cornerback Eugene Daniel (hamstring tear) and two of their top safeties, Kim Herring (mild concussion) and Rondell Jones (pulled groin), both of whom play the Ravens' nickel and dime coverages.

The situation got worse on the Cardinals' last drive, which started at the Arizona 20 with 34 seconds left in the game.

The Ravens had to insert safety Bennie Thompson, Staten and cornerback Donny Brady, all three basically special teams players, into basic coverage on defense. At one point, Thompson, already with a fractured hand, matched up with Rob Moore, one of the best receivers in the game. Brady was benched earlier in the season. Staten was inactive for several games, and Thompson has the worst hands of any defensive back on the team.

It was no contest, even with Plummer throwing the passes. The Cardinals were even happier to see the Ravens rush only three players several times during the six-play, 55-yard drive that ended with Nedney's winning field goal.

Plummer completed passes of 11, 6, 27 and 6 yards during the drive, the longest one to Moore from the Cardinals' 42 to the Ravens' 31.

"A lot of those guys don't get as many reps as the other guys during the week," Jenkins said. "Injuries are the nature of the game, and you never know when your number is going to be called. The coach always tells you to be ready and to get mental reps during practice. Don't make the same mistake that you see another person make."

Then why not pressure the quarterback instead of playing a prevent defense? "I think we made the right calls at the right time," Jenkins said.

"It's been proven that the prevent defense sometimes only prevents you from winning," said Plummer.

Actually, the Ravens' defense played well enough to win, holding the Cardinals to 273 yards of total offense and picking off two Plummer passes.

But again, the Ravens' offense was inept (39 points in the last four games), having only one substantial drive in the game, going 80 yards in 12 plays, as running back Bam Morris finished the series with a 1-yard touchdown run off right tackle that gave the Ravens a 10-6 lead with 3: 28 left in the third quarter.

But other than that and Morris' 88 yards rushing, the Ravens had to rely on two field goals from Matt Stover, including a 34-yarder that tied the game at 13 with 34 seconds left, preceding Arizona's winning drive.

Ravens quarterback Vinny Testaverde completed 21 of 37 for 193 yards, but he wasn't solely responsible for the Ravens' offensive failures. The Ravens were only 7-for-18 on third downs, and Marchibroda has taken away the downfield passing game because of Testaverde's 15 interceptions this season. The Ravens averaged 4.6 yards per pass, the same as they did per rush yesterday.

And then there were the usual dropped passes early in the game and two holding penalties, one that took the Ravens out of field-goal range.

"We had to have this game in the hunt for the playoffs," said Testaverde, who played despite a bruised forearm and sprained right wrist he suffered in the fourth quarter. "We got a couple of holding penalties that hurt. It has been a combination of different things at different times which have hurt us. We've run the ball better, and that's supposed to help our passing game. But it hasn't, for whatever reason."

The Ravens' special teams were horrendous. The Ravens began eight of 12 possessions at their own 20 or less. Cardinals return specialist Kevin Williams returned a punt 33 yards to set up a 22-yard field goal by Nedney with 7: 56 left in the first quarter and another punt 26 yards to help set up another Nedney field goal early in the third quarter.

Williams returned six punts for 110 yards, and the Cardinals returned two kickoffs for 60. Part of the Ravens' problems are the high number of rookies playing on special teams. Most of these guys never played on them in college, and the Ravens don't have a lot of veterans on the units.

"We stunk up the joint," Thompson said. "We got a lot of guys not getting off their blocks. I know we have a lot of young guys still learning, but there comes a point when you have to stop learning and start reacting. We're 11 games into the season. We're just not getting it done."

Said Morris: "We've got to make plays. We've got to be on the same page. People do things; people make mistakes. It's a pride thing now."