JACKSONVILLE, FLA.—In the record books, it will go down as another Ravens' defeat. Another close loss. Another setback to the Jacksonville Jaguars in the final moments, this time by 29-27 yesterday before 63,712 at Alltel Stadium. But the Ravens at least left with self-respect from a game in which they played without two starters in their secondary and then lost starting quarterback Vinny Testaverde to a knee injury late in the second quarter for the rest of the game.
The Ravens battled back from a 29-14 deficit early in the fourth quarter, but their comeback was thwarted with 1: 10 left on a botched two-point conversion attempt. Backup quarterback Eric Zeier tripped over left offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden's leg on a quarterback draw, then was stopped at the 1-yard line.
The Ravens tried an onside kick, but Jacksonville's Jimmy Smith recovered the ball at the Jaguars' 42 and Jacksonville (9-4) ran out the clock to clinch the victory.
The Jaguars have beaten the Ravens (4-8-1) four times, but unlike the first three meetings, when Jacksonville had to pull out victories in the closing moments with big offensive plays, this time it was the Ravens' turn.
And they didn't get it done. "We could have turned it in when we were down without our starting quarterback and they had scored a couple of times in a row," said Ravens cornerback Antonio Langham, who returned an interception 40 yards for a first-quarter touchdown and 7-0 lead.
"I know people thought we were going to get blown out, that we had quit, but this team will never stop fighting no matter how bad it looks," Langham said. "We showed a lot of character today, and that gives us a solid foundation. We're close to turning this thing around, I can feel it."
Coach Ted Marchibroda said: "We didn't forget to fight and it's a tribute to our football team. They hung in there at the end when it looked like they were out of it.
"You're never happy with a loss, but you have to like the effort. We played against one of the best teams in the league. If we play that way all the time, then we're going to win some games."
Zeier was inserted with 1: 54 left in the first half for Testaverde, who strained his left knee ligament on a sack when Bam Morris blocked safety Travis Davis into him. Testaverde is expected to undergo a magnetic resonance imaging test or X-rays today.
Zeier and the offense were pathetic in the third quarter, when the Ravens ran only six offensive plays -- three of them sacks. But the third-year quarterback out of Georgia led the team to two scoring drives in the fourth quarter.
The first was a seven-play, 72-yard march that ended with a 1-yard touchdown run by fullback Kenyon Cotton that pulled the Ravens within 29-21 with 7: 13 left.
The other was a 12-play, 69-yard drive that ended when Zeier sprinted out of the pocket to his right and threw a 7-yard touchdown pass to Eric Green as the tight end was falling backward in the right corner of the end zone.
Needing two points to tie, the Ravens called for a quarterback draw up the middle on the conversion attempt. Jaguars defensive end Tony Brackens, however, took a hard inside rush and Ogden appeared not to have driven him hard enough down the line of scrimmage, clogging up the middle.
Zeier also may not have gotten enough depth on his drop-back, which caused him to trip over Ogden's leg, when he turned left, where there was a gaping hole.
"I didn't know he was tripping over me at first," Ogden said. "I thought it was a running back who had fallen into the back of me. When I took my pass set, I just tried to wash him [Brackens] down inside. I thought I had him deep enough, but maybe I didn't. The quarterback also may not have gotten deep enough. We'll have to take a look on the film."
Zeier said: "I'm not sure how deep I was, but I saw the end go inside and it was wide-open on the outside. If I got past Jonathan, I could have crawled into the end zone."
Despite his rough start, Zeier completed seven of 12 passes for 87 yards and one touchdown. Ravens receivers also dropped three passes. Testaverde started out strong, completing 11 of 17 passes for 101 yards and a 15-yard touchdown to Jermaine Lewis.
But there will not be a quarterback controversy in Baltimore. Marchibroda said Testaverde -- who declined to comment -- would start against Seattle on Sunday if healthy.
"We're not going to base our decision on one game. We know what Eric can do," Marchibroda said.
"Everyone wants to be a starting quarterback in this league, that's what we all work for," Zeier said. "My No. 1 concern is helping this team win games. I'm not interested in starting a controversy."
The Ravens have other problems. They entered the game without right cornerback Eugene Daniel (hamstring tear) and free safety Rondell Jones (groin), who had started the previous 12 games.
That forced the Ravens to start second-year cornerback DeRon Jenkins in place of Daniel and move former starting cornerback Donny Brady into the dime and nickel coverages.
So Jaguars quarterback Mark Brunell, who struggled with his passing, still blistered the Ravens' secondary by completing 25 of 40 passes for 317 yards. The Ravens couldn't contain Keenan McCardell (seven receptions, 97 yards) or Smith (four, 93 yards). Jenkins was victimized numerous times. He declined to comment after the game. So did defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis.
"DeRon is still learning," Langham said. "There were times I should have told him to back off because they were just trying to make some big plays off him. But he's going to be OK."
There were other defensive problems. Jacksonville had 404 yards of total offense, and at one time scored on six straight possessions. The Jaguars kept the Ravens in the game by repeatedly failing to score touchdowns once inside the 20-yard line, settling for field goals of 41, 31, 29 and 22 yards. Mike Hollis, who was 5-for-5, also kicked a 42-yarder.
"In the red zone, scoring touchdowns, we came up short there, so we'll have to do something about that," said Jaguars coach Tom Coughlin. "You don't want a turnover. You want to try for the touchdown, but if it doesn't go, a field goal gives you the margin you're hoping for.
"I certainly didn't expect them to come back. It felt like we were putting them away. We felt like we could drive on them every time, but we ended up with field goals and we left the door open and they were able to get back in there."
But that was not enough.
"It was nice to come back, but the bottom line is W's and L's," Ravens guard Jeff Blackshear said. "We had a chance to get one and we didn't. That is the bottom line. Anything else, I don't care about."