By Mike Preston
September 7, 1998
It took the city of Baltimore and the state of Maryland nearly 14 years to get a new stadium constructed, and the Ravens only three hours and one minute to lose their first game in the facility. The new $223 million stadium was a house of horror for the Ravens, who self-destructed and had their coming-out party ruined in a 20-13 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers before 68,847 at Ravens stadium at Camden Yards.
After three days of glitz and pageantry ended and the smoke cleared, the Ravens had committed a comedy of errors that made them look a lot like the team that played at Memorial Stadium, winning only 10 games the past two seasons. If this team was supposed to exorcise the ghosts of John Unitas, Raymond Berry and Lenny Moore, it will have to wait at least until next Sunday, when the Ravens (0-1) go on the road to play the New York Jets.
"Our fans deserved better," said Ravens middle linebacker Ray Lewis. "By no account did we make an impressive showing for ourselves or a statement in this new stadium. We'll give them a better show in three weeks against the Bengals. We got some business to take care of next week against the Jets."
Coach Ted Marchibroda said: "This was a disappointing loss; it hurts a great deal and it hurts this football club. Because when you put what they did into it during the off-season, when they worked so hard in training camp, and you come up with a loss in a big game like this, it hurts. When there is a play to be made, we have to make it. We have to cut down on mistakes."
By the time the Ravens decided to minimize mistakes, the Steelers had taken a 20-3 lead on a 20-yard touchdown pass from Kordell Stewart to wide receiver Charles Johnson with 10 minutes left in the game. The Ravens' Matt Stover kicked a 25-yard field goal with 6: 56 remaining and quarterback Eric Zeier threw a short pass that receiver Jermaine Lewis turned into a 64-yard touchdown with 2: 48 left, but the Ravens had dug too deep a hole.
What went wrong?
The Ravens didn't make big plays: Cornerback Rod Woodson dropped an interception that would have been a touchdown midway through the first quarter. Running back Priest Holmes tripped over his own feet coming off a block from wide receiver Michael Jackson in the first quarter, so what should have been a 27-yard touchdown run turned into a 4-yard gain -- 1 short of a first down -- leading to a 41-yard field goal by Stover. Lewis dropped two passes, one a potential 54-yard touchdown pass in the third quarter. Stover missed three field-goal attempts.
Now the ugly stuff:
Bad snaps accounted for two of Stover's misses. Harper Le Bel snapped high on a 42-yard attempt to open the second quarter, then snapped low on another 42-yarder that was wide left with 8: 52 remaining in the half. Le Bel then snapped low on a punt attempt by Kyle Richardson with 2: 58 left in the third quarter, with the punter eventually covering the ball at the Ravens' 5. Three plays later, Stewart dived over from the 1.
And there was Ravens left guard Wally Williams, who twice was called for illegal procedure on third-and-short situations.
The first one was extremely costly because Ravens quarterback Jim Harbaugh chipped a bone in the ring finger of his right (throwing) hand on the next play when knocked to the ground by cornerback Carnell Lake with 8: 57 left in the half.
Harbaugh, who completed four of seven passes for 33 yards, should know by the middle of this week if he will be able to play against the Jets. Harbaugh was one of the two iron-man veterans the Ravens brought in this season. The other was Woodson, who left with back spasms with 10: 22 left.
"It was very frustrating to come out of the first game," Harbaugh said. "We tried everything from tape to medication, but I still wasn't able to throw passes of more than 15 to 20 yards on the sideline. I kind of jammed it when I hit the ground. If the bone chip stays where it's at, I could play next week. Hopefully, I can grip the ball in the middle of the week."
Williams had a lot of explaining to do. He is the team's franchise player and held out 24 days of training camp because the team didn't give him a long-term deal during the off-season.
"Jumping offsides was not a camp issue," Williams said. "If it was an issue, then it would be about conditioning and making it through the game. We can't afford to go out there and make
mistakes like we made today, myself included. We had three false starts called. It's a coulda, shoulda, woulda type thing and you can't do that against a team like Pittsburgh."
There is a possibility the Ravens may not be able to work out the kinks until tight end Brian Kinchen, the normal long snapper, completely recovers from a torn tendon in his right thumb. Le Bel also had problems in the preseason.
"What hurts me more than anything is the effect it has on my teammates," Le Bel said. "I was responsible for a lot of what happened today and I shoulder the burden. This is going to be a good team, a very good team, despite my inability to perform today. I prepared well, I studied film, I just didn't let go of the ball on time."
The Ravens did everything else they needed to do to win this game. They flattened The Bus' tires, holding running back Jerome Bettis to 41 yards rushing on 23 carries. The Ravens contained Stewart, who had 173 yards passing, two interceptions and was sacked two times and hurried many others.
Despite losing Harbaugh, the Ravens finished with 376 yards of total offense and Zeier was 16 of 27 for 240 yards passing. But again, it all came down to missed field-goal tries, bad snaps and false-start penalties.
"As long as the ball is put on the ground, I'm supposed to connect and score," Stover said. "I get paid to get it through the uprights."
If there was a silver lining in this loss, it was that the Ravens' mistakes are correctable. In the previous two losses against the Steelers, they were manhandled by Pittsburgh. The Ravens are already talking about a gut check against the Jets on Sunday.
"We helped them out today," said defensive end Michael McCrary. "I don't care what anybody thinks, we gave it to them. We didn't come in with an attitude that we were unbeatable [after a perfect preseason], but today we found out that we can lose. It's a shame, but good teams rebound from losses like this. We've got to."
"It's just one game," said Woodson, who is expected to play next week. "Good teams learn from their mistakes. We'll find out a lot about this team next week against the Jets. We'll find out what kind of character we have."
For openers, oops
Sloppy play helped send the Ravens to defeat in their season opener yesterday:
Bad kicks: Matt Stover missed three of his five field-goal tries, from 42, 42 and 45 yards.
Bad snaps: Harper Le Bel had two poor snaps that may have contributed to Stover's misses. Le Bel also one-hopped a snap to Kyle Richardson in the third quarter that went through the punter's legs and resulted in a 31-yard loss. The Steelers took over at the Ravens' 5 and Kordell Stewart scored from the 1 three plays later for a 13-3 lead.
False starts: Left guard Wally Williams twice jumped offside in third-and-short situations in the second quarter, setting up third-and-long plays that the Ravens did not convert.
Dropped passes: Rod Woodson dropped a potential interception with a clear path to the end zone in the first quarter. Jermaine Lewis dropped a potential touchdown pass in the third quarter that would have given the Ravens a 10-3 lead.
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