The Ravens unveiled their 1997 football team last night in the preseason opener against the New York Giants, and they looked a lot like the 1996 version, except for a dominating defensive line.
The Ravens' first-string units played most of the first two quarters and enjoyed a six-point halftime lead before losing, 21-20, to the Giants before a crowd of 53,268 last night at Memorial Stadium as Brad Daluiso kicked a 29-yard field goal with 1 minute, 57 seconds left.
The Ravens had an opportunity to win the game on a 37-yard field-goal attempt by Matt Stover with six seconds left in the game, but holder Greg Montgomery's attempt to stop the clock by spiking the ball after corraling a low snap was unsuccessful.
"I tried to throw a pass, and that's what we're taught at the end of the game so we can stop the clock and get another chance at it," said Montgomery. "I think they made a bad call."
The Ravens were sloppy on another field-goal snap too, but converted. It's just one of several problems the team has to fix in three more preseason games before the opener against Jacksonville on Aug. 31.
But overall, this was a solid performance by the Ravens, who had to overcome the Giants' putting back in several first-string players late in the game to pull out the victory.
The Ravens' offense seemed to pick up where it left off last year when it was one of the most potent in the league. Ravens All-Pro quarterback Vinny Testaverde completed eight of 11 passes in the first half for 98 yards and one touchdown, and played almost error-free except for a poor decision late in the first quarter.
Wide receiver Derrick Alexander was also just as effective with ,, four catches for 49 yards and a touchdown. Other offensive standouts? Take your pick. There were running backs Bam Morris and Jay Graham, and a patched-up offensive line that played well for a second straight week, including last week's scrimmage against the Philadelphia Eagles.
Reserve wide receiver Ray Ethridge also had a strong showing along with slot receiver Jermaine Lewis, even though a Lewis fumble killed a possible touchdown drive in the third quarter.
"Overall, we played hard and competed well. It was a solid effort, and it gives us something to build on," said Ravens assistant head coach Kirk Ferentz, speaking on behalf of head coach Ted Marchibroda, who had to leave the game immediately afterward because of a death in his wife's family. "It's hard to tell how the offensive line played until we get a look at the film, but I think we did OK. Quentin [starting center Quentin Neujahr] held his own and I'd be surprised if he didn't have a pretty good year."
Testaverde said: "We've been working hard in training camp. We feel we're as good as we were toward the end of last year, and we can build on that and get even better."
As for the defense, well, the Ravens need some improvement. The defensive line of tackles Tony Siragusa, James Jones and ends Rob Burnett and Mike Frederick played well, but the Ravens' rookie outside linebackers, especially second-round pick Jamie Sharper, were exposed on runs outside.
Rookie linebacker Cornell Brown also had his problems on the outside, but that's not a major concern now because that spot is reserved for top draft pick Peter Boulware.
"Well, they put their guys back in to win the game, and we're going in the other way to try to play some of our other guys, but that's their decision," said Ravens defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis. "They won the football game and I'm sure they feel good about that.
"Overall, I think we did a good job. I'm pleased our first group went against another first-group offense and shut it down," he said. "Our very first impression is that we're off to a good start, but we were off to a good start last year. I think the biggest difference is we now have guys who are able to handle adversity a little better. We have guys who want to play football."
Of Sharper, Lewis said: "He's got to improve and become a better tackler. That's the difference at this level. You've got backs that are a little better athletes than he's used to playing against. You've got to be able to get them on the ground."
One defensive rookie who did shine was middle linebacker Tyrus McCloud, the fourth-round pick out of Louisville, who was filling in for the injured Ray Lewis. McCloud led all the Ravens with nine tackles, including two sacks.
The Ravens did get a lot of help from a rebuilding Giants team that is under rookie head coach Jim Fassel.
The Ravens capitalized on two turnovers to score on their first two possessions of the game. The Giants' Thomas Lewis fumbled the opening kickoff on a hit by Frederick, and Ravens fullback Steve Lee recovered at the Giants' 29.
The Ravens went to Morris on the next three plays, who carried for 7, 4 and 4 yards down to the Giants' 15. Testaverde overthrew Alexander in the right flat on his first pass of the preseason, and then completed a 4-yard pass to receiver Michael Jackson on third-and-6 at the Giants' 14, forcing Stover to kick a 28-yard field goal for a 3-0 with 12: 30 left in the first quarter.
Giants running Rodney Hampton fumbled a handoff on the third play of New York's next possession and Ravens rookie safety Kim Herring recovered at the Giants' 20. Three plays later, Testaverde threw a 21-yard touchdown pass to Alexander, who had beaten New York cornerback Philippi Sparks on the play.
New York pulled within eight points when Testaverde was called for intentional grounding from his own end zone with 4: 55 left in the first quarter.
The Giants then went 24 yards on six plays on their next possession, which ended with a 47-yard field goal from Daluiso that pulled New York within 10-5 with 1: 45 left in the quarter.
But the Ravens unleashed rookie running back Jay Graham on the next series. Graham had runs of 6, 6 and 11 yards during the possession before finishing the seven-play, 73-yard drive with a 4-yard touchdown run around right end behind guard Jeff Blackshear, which put the Ravens ahead, 17-5, with 12: 49 left in the half.
The big play in the drive was a 28-yard reception from Lewis down to the Giants' 24-yard line.
But the Giants opened their next possession with an 18-yard pass from quarterback Dave Brown to tight end Howard Cross to their own 45. Brown peppered the Ravens' defense with three more short passes before Daluiso bailed them out with a 26-yard field goal that cut the Ravens' lead to 17-8 with 8: 08 left in the half.
He would connect again on a 54-yard field goal with 33 seconds left to close wthin 17-11.
Next for Ravens
Opponent: N.Y. Jets
Site: Giants Stadium, East Rutherford, N.J.
When: 8 p.m. Friday
TV/Radio: Ch. 45/WJFK (1300 AM), WLIF (101.9 FM)
Pub Date: 8/03/97