Losing has become so contagious that the Ravens are starting to use words such as hex, curse and jinx. Maybe there are voodoo dolls hung back in Cleveland.
But while the Ravens are taking a trip through the Twilight Zone, they also are rapidly approaching another area, positioning themselves to draft one of the nation's top college players in April.
Oh, this team has the potential.
They blew another one yesterday, squandering a 15-point lead after three quarters before Mike Hollis kicked a 34-yard field goal with 5: 54 left in overtime to give the Jacksonville Jaguars a 28-25 win before 57,384 at Memorial Stadium.
The Ravens (3-9) now finish the season with the Pittsburgh Steelers (8-3) and Houston Oilers (6-6) at home and the Cincinnati Bengals (5-7) and Carolina Panthers (8-4) on the road.
"I don't know if this team is snake-bitten. I don't know if that's the right term," said wide receiver Derrick Alexander. "Man, but we have some kind of virus where we can't win in the second half."
Fellow wide receiver Michael Jackson said: "It is past the point of frustration. It's amazing. We had the game in the bag, but someone cut a little hole in the side and the game came out."
This was the Ravens' seventh game decided by seven points or fewer (3-4 record) and the third by three points or fewer (0-3). The Ravens have lost three of four games decided in the last minute or overtime, all of those in the last five contests.
They blew yesterday's game with two fumbles and a missed field-goal attempt late in the game, a defense that couldn't generate a pass rush in the second half, an offense that couldn't score touchdowns once inside the opponent's 20-yard line and some questionable officiating.
And this all happened on a day when seven coaches, five from the Ravens and two from the Jaguars, were stuck on an elevator for about 25 minutes after halftime.
"It just falls in line with everything else that has happened around here," said Ravens defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis, who was tied up on the elevator with Ravens coaches Mike Sheppard, Pat Hill, Jim Schwartz and Eric Mangini and Jacksonville's Randy Edsall and Steve Szabo.
The Ravens were their own worst enemy. They had just stopped Jacksonville (5-7) on a 50-yard drive and taken possession at their own 30 with 2: 49 left in the game and an eight-point lead.
All the Ravens had to do was run out the clock. Instead, Testaverde fumbled the exchange from center Wally Williams and linebacker Eddie Robinson recovered at the Ravens' 19.
Six plays later, Jacksonville quarterback Mark Brunell threw a 7-yard touchdown pass to Willie Jackson in the corner of the end zone. Brunell then rolled left and dived in for the tying conversion.
"Vinny said he got the ball pretty good, but he said somebody scraped his arm and knocked the ball out," said Williams.
Testaverde said: "When I was pulling out of center, I think Wally was pulling left and he may have hit the ball with his left leg. It was going to be a toss to Bam Morris."
The Ravens still had another opportunity. With 1: 24 left in the game, they went from their own 31 to the Jaguars' 36. But on second-and-nine with 20 seconds left, the Jaguars jumped offside. Instead of throwing the ball away to stop the time, Testaverde tried to throw to Alexander down the right sideline and the pass was intercepted by Chris Hudson, who ran the clock down to seven seconds before he was tackled.
So instead of having one more down to advance the ball, the Ravens sent out Matt Stover for a 49-yard field goal. Wide right.
"I should have just thrown it away or to someone else," said Testaverde.
Stover, who had kicked four field goals earlier, was just as bummed.
"Everything I hit, I hit well," said Stover. "Even the last one, I hit it, but it just went wide. The snap was good, the hold was good and I hit the kick well. I missed it. As a kicker in the NFL, I get paid to win games and I didn't make the big play."
Neither did Ravens running back Earnest Byner. After the Ravens stopped Jacksonville to open the overtime period, Testaverde drove the Ravens from their own 6 to the Jaguars' 38. But on first down, Byner ran over right guard, where a hit by linebacker Kevin Hardy caused a fumble recovered by defensive tackle Kelvin Prichett at the 37.
It took the Jaguars eight plays to get down to the Ravens' 15 before Hollis kicked the 34-yarder to win the game.
Byner declined to comment when questioned by a reporter outside the stadium.
But Ravens coach Ted Marchibroda said: "I don't feel like our ballclub loses poise, we have the guys to make the plays, we just don't make them. We had numerous chances to win the ballgame. We just don't make the plays at the end of the ballgame when we have to have it."
The Ravens didn't make a lot of plays at the beginning or midway points either, which is why Stover had to kick field goals of 21, 29, 41 and 33 yards.
Like Alexander dropping a possible first-down pass at the Jaguars' 1 with 5: 15 left in the half. Or receiver Floyd Turner failing to get out of bounds to stop the clock with 39 seconds left in the half, forcing the Ravens to take a timeout. Or the Ravens' offensive line not providing room for its running backs inside the Jaguars' 20.
Then there is the defense.
How about cornerback Donny Brady getting beat three times on long passes? The first one resulted in a 53-yard pass-interference call that led to a 1-yard touchdown run by James Stewart with 13: 00 left in the second quarter that brought the Jaguars within 10-7.
Then there was the first play from scrimmage in overtime, when Brunell threw over the middle to wide receiver Jimmy Smith and safety Eric Turner stepped in front only to drop a potential game-winning interception.
"Again, we don't make the play," said Marchibroda, whose team outgained the Jaguars 460 to 367 yards in total offense. "I think we are worn down because of the fact that we have a shortage of numbers. We had a much better pass rush in the first half than in the second."
Marchibroda and the Ravens also had a hard time tolerating the officiating. Hudson fumbled a punt that the Ravens recovered at the Jacksonville 15 with 6: 36 left in the first quarter, but the officials gave the Jaguars possession when they ruled there had been an inadvertent whistle.
Seven plays later, Mitchell seemed to have made a reception and fumble after being hit by cornerback Antonio Langham, but the pass was ruled incomplete.
The Ravens also were not happy about pass interference not being called on Bucky Brooks on tight end Brian Kinchen, an unnecessary roughness call on Byner during a punt and the same call on Turner, all in the second half.
"It was the worst officiated game I've ever seen or been involved in," said Testaverde, who completed 31 of 50 passes for 366 yards. "The commissioner needs to take a close look because players can lose their jobs over this."
Kinchen said: "To me down on the field it's like this every week. It just gets worse. It's like the guys [officials] are intentionally trying to torment us. Like I told them, they were pathetic. There's no two ways about it."
Next for Ravens
Opponent: Pittsburgh Steelers
Site: Memorial Stadium
When: Sunday, 1 p.m.
TV: Ch. 11/WJFK (1300 AM), WLIF (101.9 FM)
Tonight: At Miami, 9 o'clock
Pub Date: 11/25/96