NASHVILLE, TENN.—Tennessee Oilers coach Jeff Fisher does not have much of a legacy with a franchise that has moved three times in three years, but he will be remembered in Baltimore as the person who probably ended Ted Marchibroda's career as Ravens coach.If Marchibroda, in the final season of a three-year contract, had any possibility of acquiring an extension, it probably was buried in the aftermath of the Ravens' 16-14 loss to the Oilers yesterday before 31,124 at Vanderbilt Stadium.
The 5-8 Ravens play host to the 12-1 Minnesota Vikings on Sunday, and with three games remaining, the best they can finish is 8-8. A .500 record would fall short of owner Art Modell's mandate of the team having to show "considerable improvement" from a 6-9-1 record in 1997.
Modell, as well as many members of the front office, expected the Ravens to at least be in some type of playoff contention in December. But a lot of that changed on Oct. 11 when the Ravens lost to Tennessee, 12-8, at home in what is considered the turning point of the season. The Ravens then lost three more.
The Ravens fought hard yesterday. They trailed 13-0 at halftime but attempted a comeback despite offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden (multiple-ligament ankle sprain), center Wally Williams (cervical strain, neck spasms) and Jeff Blackshear (kicked in the groin) missing time with injuries and offensive tackle Orlando Brown also slowed by an ankle injury.
But the bottom line is that the Ravens were swept in two-game series by AFC Central teams Pittsburgh, Jacksonville and Tennessee, and Marchibroda is 15-29-1 in three years. Marchibroda also is 6-18 in the division during his tenure and 3-15 against the Steelers, Jaguars and Oilers.
"We should have been better this year and it comes down to winning games," said Ravens kicker Matt Stover. "That shows progress. It's all about performance. We have the talent on this team to win games, but for some reason or another, we just
haven't gotten it done as a team. As a kicker, I'm paid to win games and that's the bottom line. You put up or shut up. That's just my opinion, but it's up to the owner and management to determine whether Ted returns on not."
Said Ravens defensive end Michael McCrary: "There has been progress made, but not according to our record and that's the only thing that counts. As players, we have to take responsibility. The coaches tell us what to do, but sometimes we just don't get it done for whatever reason. Whether Ted returns or not, I don't even think about that kind of stuff."
At times, it was a painful game to watch because the Ravens got great second-half efforts. The defense, after allowing 205 yards in the first half, held the Oilers to 86 yards in the second. Receiver Floyd Turner had second-half touchdown passes of 66 and 20 yards, quarterback Jim Harbaugh looked like he might pull off a second-half comeback and the pictures of Ogden playing on one leg late in the game and Blackshear playing despite being kicked in the groin will not be forgotten for a while. Ogden and Brown were on crutches after the game.
But the final offensive play for the Ravens was their season in microcosm. With 58 seconds left, Harbaugh underthrew Turner from the Ravens' 26. The pass was tipped by cornerback Samari Rolle, and as the ball bounced around, it was intercepted by safety Steve Jackson at the Tennessee 37 before it was about to hit the turf.
End of game. End of Marchibroda. But here's the kicker: Ravens receiver James Roe, who was the outside receiver on the left, appeared to be wide-open down the left sideline.
"It's hard to say if I was open," said Roe, careful not to spark controversy. "I think I was, but you know, it was in the heat of the moment. Maybe if [Harbaugh] had more time, he would have seen me. Again, it was hard to say."
Harbaugh said: "If I had to do it all over again, I would put the ball more on the line and, if I would have had more time, I would have pumped it to Floyd and threw it to Roe. Because the outside guy was falling back in, I took a chance and thought maybe we would get another big catch."
Turner, filling in for the injured Jermaine Lewis, made a spectacular 66-yard touchdown catch with 10: 56 left in the third quarter when Harbaugh lofted a pass on a fade route and Turner leaped over cornerback Denard Walker at the Oilers' 35 and then ran the remaining distance for the touchdown that brought the Ravens within 13-7.
Turner burned Rolle for a 20-yard touchdown pass with 1: 46 left in the game to complete a seven-play, 80-yard drive that brought the Ravens within 16-14. Turner had four catches for 108 yards, ** but the day was bittersweet.
"They gave me the opportunity to make some plays and I came up with the ball," Turner said. "I just wish we could have got a victory out of it. We had the chance to put the nail in the coffin and come out with a victory and we fell short."
It would have been a great victory in a game that displayed a lot of nasty feelings between the teams. At one point in the second half, the officials talked with both teams and their coaches on the sidelines. Even the turning point of the game was on a missed call that should have been a late hit.
Faced with a second-and-24 on his own 28, Harbaugh ran 9 yards and then was hit along the left sideline in front of the Ravens' bench by middle linebacker Joe Bowden. Replays showed that Harbaugh was clearly out of bounds and a penalty would have given the Ravens an automatic first down. Instead, ** Harbaugh was sacked by right tackle Josh Evans on the next play and the Ravens had to punt.
"I felt like I was pretty close to out of bounds, if not out of bounds," Harbaugh said. "I felt like it should have been called. [The officials] said clearly you were in bounds. I said I think clearly you blew the call. Are you the same crew that worked the Kansas City-Denver game a few weeks ago?"
Said Marchibroda: "We thought it should have been a penalty, it was right in front of our bench. We fought hard, but anytime you fall behind this team 13-0 with the kind of defense they play, it's hard to come back."
The Ravens' defense was ugly in the first half as the Oilers scored on two Al Del Greco field goals of 48 yards and an Eddie George 2-yard touchdown run on their first three possessions of the game.
On two of those drives, the Oilers were aided by Ravens punter Kyle Richardson, who had a horrible day. He had one punt of 37 yards and another of 32 that enabled Tennessee to start possessions at its 40 and 39.
"They came out and made plays and we didn't," said Ravens middle linebacker Ray Lewis. "They hit a lot of misdirectionsagainst us and we didn't make the tackles. We made the proper adjustments in the second half."
Not really. Fisher went ultraconservative in the second half. He handed off to George around right end on third-and-12 from the Tennessee 34 on the first series of the third quarter. With a third-and-six at the Oilers' 30 with 1: 32 left in the game, Fisher handed off to George again instead of going for a first down.
He knew the Ravens lost Williams during their second offensive series of the game. He knew they lost Blackshear with 13: 05 left in the game, and both Ogden and Brown were struggling. Plus, Fisher is the coach of the Oilers, who have owned the Ravens' offense this season.
"Just like we have the Bengals' number, they have ours," Ogden said. "They match up well against what we do. They have speedy linebackers who stunt, slant, pinch and do a lot of things."
Blackshear said: "They are a dirty football team, the dirtiest I've faced. As a team, we lost this game but personally I won't forget this team or this game."
For Marchibroda, there probably won't be a next year.
"We'll play for .500," Marchibroda said. "If we beat Minnesota, that would be a nice feather in our cap."