As farewells go, Michael Jackson's was a classic.
The Ravens' sixth-year wide receiver finished his season with a wallop yesterday, catching five passes for 117 yards and three touchdowns to put a memorable cap on a breakthrough year.
He was the brightest spot in the Ravens' latest and final loss of 1996, and his victim was cornerback Cris Dishman, a former Pro Bowl player.
Ah yes, the Pro Bowl. Jackson thought he might be headed there a month ago. But, after teammate Derrick Alexander was selected two weeks ago, Jackson found out he wasn't even on the final ballot.
Alexander sat out the season finale with a left shoulder strain. Jackson spent three hours making a loud statement. First, he burned Dishman on an 86-yard touchdown in the first quarter, when he pulled away from Dishman and safety Marcus Robertson on the left sideline.
Then, he beat Dishman on a short post pattern to complete an 8-yard touchdown early in the fourth quarter. His 4-yard TD catch with 13 seconds left wrapped up his big day.
Did Jackson use his Pro Bowl snub as motivation?
"Since the balloting has been out and I wasn't even anything on it, from that point on, I knew I'd be playing against Pro Bowl corners and defensive backs," Jackson said. "I knew they couldn't stop me before the balloting and they are not going to stop me now. As a matter of fact, I'm probably going to be better than I was before that, because of that little thing."
For the first and only time this season, Jackson did not catch anything against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Dec. 1, the day the Ravens won their last game. That also was the day Alexander caught seven passes for 198 yards and a touchdown, solidifying his Pro Bowl chances.
Jackson, who had three 100-yard games this season, bounced back impressively after the Steelers' game. Over his last three games, he recorded 17 receptions for 263 yards and four touchdowns.
He finished the season with 76 receptions for 1,201 yards and 14 touchdowns -- all career highs.
Vinny Testaverde, who threw for 307 yards and three touchdowns yesterday, recorded his fifth 300-yard game of the season and 20th of his 10-year career.
Testaverde finished the year with 33 touchdown passes and 4,177 yards passing, easily career highs. He also became the eighth quarterback in NFL history to throw for 30 touchdowns and 4,000 yards in a single season, and the first to do so for a sub-.500 team.
Ogden 'the full package'
You might say Ravens coach Ted Marchibroda has been impressed by rookie guard Jonathan Ogden, who turned in another fine performance yesterday and could be headed to his natural position at left tackle if, as expected, the Ravens let veteran Tony Jones go.
"He has it all," Marchibroda said of the 6-foot-8, 320-pound Ogden. "There are no ifs attached to him at all. We've got the full package. He's our Roberto Alomar."
No replacement for Hill
Marchibroda said he has not begun to look into replacing tight ends coach Pat Hill, who is leaving to become head coach at Fresno State.
"A lot of resumes have been sent in, but I haven't even looked at them yet," he said.
Asked if anyone would be promoted from within the organization, Marchibroda said, "We don't have anyone to promote from within. I don't think Ozzie [Newsome] is interested," referring to the vice president of player personnel and former tight end great.
Flying on road
Yesterday's win was Houston's sixth on the road this season against two losses. The Ravens were 0-8 away from home.
"This team is a collection of road warriors," said Oilers coach Jeff Fisher. "I think we're tied in the league for the best record on the road, and that says a lot. It's tough to win on the road, and this team has found a way."
When asked for an explanation, Fisher said, "I guess we like the airplane."
Ending on good note
At one point this season, the Oilers were 5-2 and thinking playoffs. But they needed yesterday's victory to finish at .500.
"It's disappointing to think we were a game away. If we had won one more ballgame, we would have needed this win to get in," Fisher said. "That in itself is disappointing, but the positives from that are it shows improvement. I think we got some respect from around the league considering what we had to do this year, and we overcame."
Said rookie running back Eddie George: "We didn't go because it wasn't meant for us to go. We knew the situation coming into today and we just wanted to finish on a high note."
No Heisman jinx
George, the Heisman Trophy winner out of Ohio State, ended his rookie season with 1,368 yards, a sprained ankle and a mild concussion.
George, who gained 85 yards yesterday on 21 carries, returned from the ankle injury, but left the game for good after the second mishap, which occurred in the fourth quarter.
Other than a 40-yard run on Houston's opening series, George averaged 2.2 yards on his remaining carries.
On his long run, George burst up the middle, then cut to the right and sprinted down the sideline before being pushed out of bounds by Donny Brady.
"There were some good blocks," George said. "I just did my best to get by."
George did more than just get by this season. He destroyed the so-called Heisman jinx.
George is the fifth back to win the Heisman and rush for at least 1,300 yards as a rookie. George Rogers (1,674), Barry Sanders (1,470), former Oiler Earl Campbell (1,450) and Billy Sims (1,303) were the others.
"It was a season where I got my feet wet. Now I know what to expect. It was something to build on," he said.
Dishman said the Oilers tried a new scheme to confuse Testaverde.
"Vinny's been good to us, real good to us," Dishman said of the Ravens quarterback, who had three interceptions in the first game against Houston and two yesterday. "We've been able to confuse him. We faked a lot of man and then switched to zone.
"We knew they were going to prepare for the blitz so we changed our strategy. When Vinny starts moving his feet, you know he's getting nervous and he's going to get rid of the ball quick because he's jittery."
Ravens running back Bam Morris finished the season with 172 carries for 737 yards, and most of those yards were gained after he became a starter against the Jacksonville Jaguars on Nov. 10. Defensive lineman Elliott Fortune recorded the first sack of his two-year pro career. In a season defined by their weekly, lengthy injury lists, the Ravens reported no significant injuries. Veteran Bennie Thompson referred to yesterday's game as a playoff game. "Last play, and we're off," he said.
Pub Date: 12/23/96