By Mike Preston
December 15, 1997
There was almost one more miracle on 33rd Street. Almost.
When cornerback John Williams knocked down Steve McNair's pass to Frank Wycheck at the Ravens' 34-yard line with 16 seconds left, the final chapter of the illustrious history of the NFL at Memorial Stadium was closed with the Ravens' 21-19 victory over the Tennessee Oilers yesterday.
The place once known as the world's largest outdoor insane asylum rocked one more time as the past met the present with old Colts such as John Unitas, Lenny Moore and Lydell Mitchell passing the baton to Baltimore's newest stars such as Jonathan Ogden, Ray Lewis and Michael Jackson.
And, of course, the Ravens (6-8-1) kept the crowd of 60,558 mesmerized, scoring the game-winning touchdown on a 15-yard pass from quarterback Eric Zeier to receiver Derrick Alexander to take a 21-12 lead with 9: 20 left in the game, but not before a last-minute comeback by the Oilers (7-8).
Tennessee quarterback McNair dived in from the 1-yard line to finish a 15-play, 79-yard drive that, with the extra point, pulled the Oilers within two with 1: 03 remaining.
Tennessee recovered its onside kick, but Williams knocked down the pass to end the final bid.
"No game is a Ravens game unless there is drama at the end," said Ravens center Wally Williams. "But we needed the excitement of the old Colts returning, the stadium packed. Guys were pumped up. It feels good to win this game, now two in a row. We can gain some momentum from this. This was Colts-Ravens day, we had to win."
Coach Ted Marchibroda said: "I think once they got out here they felt the emotion, the electricity in the air. It was such a big day for the fans of Baltimore and for the Ravens' organization. That's the important thing, we capped it off with a victory."
It was important for other reasons as well. The Ravens won their second consecutive game and another one at home heading into their new stadium at Camden Yards next season. They got a gutty performance from an injured defensive line that was down to four healthy players and another victory from third-year quarterback Zeier, who was making his second straight start over veteran Vinny Testaverde.
It's late in the season, but maybe the Ravens are on the verge of a breakthrough.
"You have to like the way we're doing things right now," Williams said. "We're doing the things we have to do to win games, things we weren't doing early in the season."
Zeier wasn't exceptional, but effective. He completed 13 of 28 passes for 204 yards and three touchdowns. He threw at least two passes that should have been intercepted, but had one touchdown pass dropped by Alexander and another possible touchdown taken away when Jackson fumbled at the 1 right before halftime.
Marchibroda has named his starting quarterback on Wednesday before the past two games and the Ravens have won both. He said he'll name his starter again in two days, but it's hard to argue with the bottom line.
Zeier has won his past two starts.
"He looked good, he made the big plays today," Marchibroda said. "He knows what is going on out there and he is able to scramble and make the big plays. I think I'll just make a decision on Wednesday. It seems to work out better that way."
Zeier, as usual, had few comments about his status. But on a day when the Ravens had only 246 yards of total offense compared to 390 for the Oilers and Tennessee had a 15-minute advantage in time of possession, Zeier was the biggest offensive difference.
He threw an 8-yard touchdown pass on a short hitch pass to Jackson that put the Ravens ahead 7-0 with 11: 50 left in the first quarter. Then with 5: 02 left in the second quarter, Zeier was getting pressure from his left. He rolled right and just before he reached the sideline, hurled a 37-yard touchdown pass to tight end Eric Green for a 14-6 Ravens lead.
The final touchdown was a perfect read from Zeier, who threw high and completed the pass to Alexander in the back of the end zone. Slot receiver Jermaine Lewis was the primary receiver on the play, but when he and Alexander both ran post patterns and Lewis drew the double-team from safeties Blaine Bishop and Marcus Robertson, Zeier went to Alexander, who had single coverage from cornerback Denard Walker.
"Eric threw it a little later than I expected and he threw it hard," said Alexander, who slammed into the wall at the base of the stands after the catch. "I was hoping I got both my feet down. I knew I was real close to the end line."
The Ravens needed to convert on some big plays, because they blew several others and wasted a 51-yard kickoff and 24-yard punt return by Jermaine Lewis. Plus, two field-goal attempts by Matt Stover were blocked, a 50-yarder with 14: 15 left in the half and a 27-yarder with 12: 53 left in the game.
"I've missed four in a row now," Stover said. "I hit both of them good, so that was not the problem. Both the holds and the snaps were good. But on both attempts the blocks came from straight up the middle."
Ravens special teams captain Bennie Thompson said: "I don't know what went wrong, but it's something we have to correct. We'll have to take a look at the film."
The Ravens also may need to find some help on the defensive line, which has been the team's strength this season.
Starting tackle Tony Siragusa missed yesterday's game with a fractured finger on his right hand. Starting ends Rob Burnett (ankle contusion) and Michael McCrary (knee) went down with injuries in the first quarter, and reserve tackle Larry Webster left the game several times with an assortment of injuries.
But the Ravens hung tough. They allowed Oilers star Eddie George to rush 26 times for 129 yards, but McNair was never comfortable in the passing game, completing 22 of 45 passes for 219 yards and no touchdowns.
"This game is about wins and losses," said Ravens defensive tackle James Jones, who may be the team's unsung hero this season. "The last two weeks we've found a way to win. Mike Freder- ick [a defensive end who also played defensive tackle yesterday] stepped up today and Larry Webster stepped up today. The biggest thing, I think, about the game is we persevered."
Maybe no Ravens player persevered more than defensive end Keith Washington. On fourth-and-goal from the Baltimore 2, McNair rolled left but Washington batted his pass down at the line of scrimmage with 6: 21 left in the third quarter.
Zeier's fourth-quarter touchdown pass to Alexander was set up by Washington, who beat left tackle Brad Hopkins and then ran down McNair, who was rolling to the right. Washington stripped McNair and Jones recovered at the 15. On the next play, Zeier hooked up with Alexander.
"On the first play, my job was to contain," Washington said. "As the quarterback rolled, I just tried to keep an inside angle on him and raised my hand to knock the ball away. On the sack, I had problems getting around him all game, but when I saw the ball in his right hand, I just tried to strip it."
Jones finished with seven tackles and Washington had six. Safety Kim Herring and cornerbacks DeRon Jenkins and Antonio Langham also each had seven tackles, and middle linebacker Ray Lewis led all with eight.
It was that kind of day, where the defense was forced to bend, but didn't break and the Ravens came up with enough big plays to win. It wasn't as proficient as Unitas to Berry, or Moore and Mitchell taking toss plays around the end. And no one on the Ravens' patchwork defensive line reminded anyone of Braase, Donovan, Marchetti and the boys.
But one era ended and another one was started with the Ravens having won the last one where it all started.
"It's great to end on a winning note," Zeier said. "All the tradition here and all of the support we've had the past two years, it's nice to give a little something back to the city of Baltimore."
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