Ravens seek happy ending to sour year Injury-riddled team's 1st season in Baltimore closes against Houston; 'We're playing for pride'; Win would give team 5-3 record at home


Some of the Ravens have thought about being home with their families for Christmas, sitting in front of the fireplace and sipping wine. But the dreams last for only a short while. The Ravens still have one more bit of business to finish.

It ends at Memorial Stadium today, when the Ravens (4-11) play the Houston Oilers (7-8) to complete their inaugural season in Baltimore.

"You look over the season and you're disappointed because this team has a lot of talent," said Ravens left offensive tackle Tony Jones, who has been with the organization for nine years. "Never have I seen so many injuries, especially on the defensive side of the ball. But the bottom line is that we didn't get the job done.

"Now we're playing for pride," he added. "A lot of things can make you not want to play, but we're professionals. We're still going to get evaluated off this game. It's great to end the season on a positive note. It's also good to manage a split with a team in your division. You don't want them talking a lot of trash to you during the off-season."

Ravens coach Ted Marchibroda is approaching the game in a similar manner, even though both teams have no chance of making the playoffs. Marchibroda hasn't deviated from his practice schedule in the past week. It's been the same since the team opened training camp in July. And all veterans who aren't LTC hurt and who usually start will be in the lineup.

"It's a division game, and that's always an extra incentive, plus we have the chance to go 5-3 at home and do something for all those fans at Memorial Stadium, who have been outstanding this year," said Marchibroda. "We're going to go out and play hard. That's what we have done all year and we'll play that way to the end."

The Ravens have some other incentives. Houston was the only team to dominate the Ravens in all four quarters this year, in a 29-13 Oilers win on Sept. 15. Quarterback Vinny Testaverde played his worst game of the season, throwing three interceptions.

Also in that game, Brian Kinchen snapped the ball over punter Greg Montgomery's head for a safety. Rookie middle linebacker Ray Lewis was leveled by Houston H-back Frank Wycheck on a trap play (spraining his back in the process), and running back Earnest Hunter watched a kickoff land at the 5-yard line and failed to cover it.

The Ravens were ugly.

"It's good we play them the last game," said Marchibroda. "They might be the only team that beat us for four quarters. We were never in that game, never had the lead and struggled in all three phases."

Houston was knocked out of the playoff hunt in the last two weeks with losses to the Jacksonville Jaguars and Cincinnati Bengals. Out of contention, the Oilers have looked to the future, with coach Jeff Fisher benching veteran quarterback Chris Chandler for second-year player Steve McNair.

Today's start will be McNair's sixth as a pro.

"Steve has done a good job this year," said Fisher. "He may not have addressed it, but he has been able to watch a successful quarterback. He is to the point now where he has to take care of himself and produce. We're confident that he has improved and we're hoping he will be the quarterback we drafted him to be."

But the Oilers are a team that relies on the run, and they have one of the most promising backs in the league in rookie Eddie George, who has rushed for 1,283 yards on 314 attempts.

George will be going against a defense that is ranked last in the league, allowing 120.2 yards rushing and 249 passing a game.

"He has great balance and is big and strong with size and speed," Ravens linebacker Ed Sutter said of George. "You have to be a sure tackler to bring him down. Houston has gotten away from the run-and-shoot, and they establish the run to set up the pass."

The Ravens' offense against the Oilers' defense should be a classic matchup. Houston has fast linebackers who can challenge the Ravens' offensive line.

Testaverde and wide receivers Michael Jackson and Derrick Alexander are having career years, but Houston has one of the best secondaries in the league with cornerbacks Cris Dishman, Darryll Lewis and safety Blaine Bishop.

"They don't play any games back there," said Jackson. "They come right at you and challenge you off the ball."

Pub Date: 12/22/96

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