PITTSBURGH -- Derrick Alexander spoke softly, which is nothing unusual for the mild-mannered wide receiver. Then again, he didn't need to talk up his performance, which was one of the bright spots of the Ravens' 31-17 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Alexander is supposed to divert attention from Michael Jackson in the Ravens' passing game. Yesterday, he did that while putting plenty of pressure on the Steelers' secondary.
Alexander led the team with six catches for 67 yards, and his highlight was beating cornerback Rod Woodson on a 17-yard slant-in for a touchdown early in the second quarter to tie the game at 14.
That marked Alexander's first trip to the end zone since his rookie season with Cleveland in 1994, the year the Browns drafted him in the first round out of Michigan.
"The game was going my way today. The ball just happened to come to my side today," Alexander said. "Big games are good, but they're no good when you lose."
Two games do not make a season, but Alexander is on a pace to bury a sophomore season he probably would like to forget. He was relegated to the bench early in 1995, and started only two games while barely getting involved in the Browns' offense. He caught only 15 passes for 216 yards.
Under coach Ted Marchibroda, Alexander has reclaimed his starting role and is back to his productive ways. After two games, he leads the Ravens in receptions (eight), yards (124) and touchdowns (one).
"That's something Derrick has expected of himself, and something I have expected of him," said Jackson. "I'm happy as I-can't-say-what for him. It's a tribute to the fact that he's mentally tough. He's been through a lot of stuff. To maintain his focus the way he has says a lot about him."
Alexander started his comeback by reporting to camp in excellent shape. But tragedy set him back. A week into training camp, his older brother, Garrett, died of lung failure. Alexander spent the next 11 days grieving with his family in Detroit.
He then played well in a preseason game against the New York Giants only three days after rejoining the Ravens.
Alexander contributed to the season-opening victory over the Oakland Raiders last week with two catches for 57 yards. Yesterday, he picked his way through Pittsburgh's man-to-man and zone coverages, beating the Steelers underneath as well as over the top. Four of his receptions were good for first downs.
His first catch might have been his sweetest. Early in the second quarter, the Ravens were trailing 14-7 and faced third-and-15 at the Steelers' 17. Alexander, lined up in the left slot, ran past Woodson, cut to the middle of the end zone and caught a perfect pass from Testaverde, just past Woodson's outstretched hand. It was the third score of his career.
"There was no one [safety] over the middle, and I just ran past him [Woodson]," Alexander said. "It's always good to beat someone who is considered the best, to see how you match up against him. And it's good to get in the paint. It's always good to get in the paint."
Alexander set up Matt Stover's field goal late in the first half by beating Woodson again for a 10-yard gain to the Pittsburgh 9.
Alexander then resurfaced during the Ravens' final drive. On a second-and-16, he beat cornerback Deon Figures for a 15-yard, sideline grab to the Pittsburgh 29. Two plays later, after Leroy Hoard rushed for a first down, Alexander beat cornerback Willie Williams for 13 yards to the Steelers' 12.
The drive ended two plays later with Earnest Hunter's fumble, but Alexander's contribution was not diminished. "I always want to be involved. The opportunities came my way, and I took advantage of them," he said. "They're counting on me to make those plays."
Added Jackson: "People will have to pay more attention to what he does, and that's going to make it better for all of us."
Pub Date: 9/09/96