ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- This may have been only a preseason game, but it was a great fine-tuning effort for the Ravens, who blasted the Buffalo Bills, 37-14, last night before 51,905 at Rich Stadium.
The Ravens open their regular season next Sunday against the Oakland Raiders at Memorial Stadium. They looked impressive last night, even though the Bills played without veteran running back Thurman Thomas and defensive end Bruce Smith and quarterback Jim Kelly played only two series.
The Ravens finished the preseason with a 3-1 record, a lot of confidence and a defense that has been outstanding. The Ravens got another strong effort last night.
They had seven sacks, including four in the first half when the first units of both teams were on the field most of the time. They also had an interception and another touchdown punt return from Jermaine Lewis in the first two periods, and their defensive line dominated the line of scrimmage the entire game.
"This was a good win for us," said Ravens coach Ted Marchibroda. "We wanted to end on a high note to go into the regular season feeling good about ourselves. We know we didn't play the real Buffalo Bills, but we're satisfied with our performance."
The Ravens won with a defense that plays with heart and hustle. Lineman Dan Footman running 20 yards downfield to tackle a ball carrier. Outside linebacker Mike Croel sacrificing his body on a pass stunt to take out two offensive linemen while a teammate makes a sack. Safety Stevon Moore making an excellent read for an interception and fellow safety Eric Turner crushing a tight end over the middle.
And this from a unit that has had to rebuild with new linebackers, including a rookie in the middle named Ray Lewis. The Ravens held Buffalo to 179 yards of total offense, only 58 rushing.
"When you mix chemicals, sometimes you get a bad explosion or sometimes you get the right chemistry," said Ray Lewis. "What we have are a lot of people playing for each other like Dan Footman holding linemen off me. We have the makings of a real solid D."
But there was one big question that came out of last night's game: Who will be the Ravens' starting halfback next week against the Raiders?
Leroy Hoard, who has started all four preseason games, has not looked sharp except for the second game against the New York Giants.
Hoard had only 14 yards on nine carries last night.
Marchibroda said he did not know who would be the starting halfback next Sunday.
"You're not game planning, you're just running plays," Hoard said of the preseason. "I'd like to do better, but you have to take it for what it is. It is preseason."
Maybe that's why the Bills took off the first two quarters. By the time the first half ended, Buffalo had only 25 yards rushing, minus-23 passing and 2 yards of total offense. The Ravens had a 20-0 lead.
The Ravens had no trouble moving the ball from the outset. They went from their own 20 to the Buffalo 45 on their first possession before linebacker Marlo Perry picked off Vinny Testaverde's pass at the Bills' 38.
The Ravens moved again on their next possession from their own 20 to the Bills' 22, but Matt Stover's field-goal attempt from the 40 yards was wide right.
But while the Ravens weren't scoring, neither were the Bills with Kelly as Buffalo failed to get a first down on its first two possessions.
But on the Ravens' third possession of the game, the team went from its own 46 to the Buffalo 19 mostly behind a 19-yard pass from Testaverde to receiver Michael Jackson.
On second-and-nine from the 19, Testaverde threw a slant-in pass that Jackson dropped in the end zone. On the next play, Testaverde overthrew wide receiver Floyd Turner in the left flat and the Ravens had to settle for a 37-yard field goal by Stover with 1: 07 left in the first quarter.
The Ravens' second score was set up by Moore, who intercepted Todd Collins' pass and returned it 30 yards to the Buffalo 29.
Three plays later, Testaverde passed 14 yards to Jackson for a touchdown and a 10-0 Ravens lead with 10: 46 left in the half.
"This is a new team in a new city and we want people to know what we're about," said Jackson. "We've had a pretty good preseason."
The Ravens scored again with 7: 10 left in the quarter as the fleetest of their Lewis rookies, Jermaine, returned a punt 83 yards for a touchdown. The Maryland alum now has two touchdown returns this preseason and the team has three.
Lewis took the punt at the Ravens' 17, faked out Gabe Northern NTC at the 20, broke through the wedge at the 25 and was left one-on-one with punter Chris Mohr at the 50.
It was no contest. Almost laughable.
"I knew that if the punter tackled me I would never hear the end of it," said Lewis.
The Ravens scored again with two seconds left in the half on a 26-yard field goal from Stover that completed a seven-play, 40-yard drive and sent the Ravens into intermission with a 20-0 lead.
The Ravens had 225 yards of total offense in the half, including 106 on the ground. Fullback Carwell Gardner led the team with 38 yards rushing on five carries.
The Ravens went ahead 27-0 with 8: 59 left in the third quarter as halfback Earnest Hunter ran 9 yards up the middle for a touchdown. The big play in the drive was a 48-yard pass from quarterback Eric Zeier to receiver Ray Ethridge. Ethridge got some help on the play as two Bills missed tackles and he was able to turn a short pass into a long gain.
Stover added a 47-yard yard field goal with 45 seconds left in the quarter as the Ravens went ahead 30-0.
Buffalo finally got on the board in the fourth quarter. With 11: 11 remaining, Alex Van Pelt hit Jason Bratton with a 4-yard pass to make it 30-7.
But the Ravens marched right back downfield, Derrick Cullors scoring from 3 yards out, before Van Pelt closed out the scoring with a 9-yard touchdown pass to Chris Brantley with 3: 29 remaining.
"We're going into the season opener with our heads together," said Ravens offensive tackle Orlando Brown. "We're not going to live off this game, but this shows what we can do if we work together."
Next for Ravens
Opponent: Oakland Raiders
When Sept. 1, 1 p.m.
Site: Memorial Stadium
@4 TV/Radio: Ch. 11/WJFK (1300 AM), WLIF (101.9 FM)
Pub Date: 8/24/96