The players and feisty coach Ted Marchibroda didn't want to hear it, but the 1997 version of the Ravens looked a lot like the 1996 team yesterday in a 28-27 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars.
The Ravens thought they got ripped off by an official's call at the end of the game and they couldn't put away a backup quarterback playing on one leg.
The Ravens' defense gave up 411 yards of total offense, quarterback Vinny Testaverde threw three interceptions and the cornerbacks were beaten badly -- including the winning 28-yard completion from quarterback Rob Johnson to wide receiver Jimmy Smith with 5: 47 left.
And the Ravens lost a fourth-quarter lead again, and another close game to the Jaguars, before a sellout crowd of 61,018 at Memorial Stadium in the season opener for both teams.
The Ravens are now 0-5 against the Jaguars, dating back to their days as the Cleveland Browns, and have lost nine of their last 11 games in which the team has had fourth-quarter leads.
Not the same old Ravens, eh?
"This isn't the Ravens of last year. Last year's two football games, we didn't have the team to beat them. We did this year," said an emotional Marchibroda, whose team lost 30-27 and 28-25 to Jacksonville last year. "We had the team to beat them, but we didn't. You've got to give those guys a lot of credit. They took the game."
Jacksonville also tried to give it away. With 1: 15 left and ahead 28-27, Jaguars running back Natrone Means was hit by safety Kim Herring, resulting in a fumble that defensive end Mike Frederick recovered with 1: 08 left.
Then faced with a fourth-and-18 at the 50-yard line following two incomplete passes and a sack, Testaverde threw a low pass that Michael Jackson appeared to catch at the Jacksonville 30 with 37 seconds left.
But head linesman Sanford Rivers ruled the pass incomplete, giving Jacksonville possession at the 50, and this time the
Jaguars ran out the remaining time.
"I don't have any doubt," said Jackson, who caught eight other passes for 143 yards. "I have no question about it -- 103 percent [certain] that I caught it. He said it hit the ground or something.
"I think it went back to a play right before the half when we were driving and we were trying to score and [Jaguars cornerback] Dave Thomas was all but choking me on the ground, holding me there to kill time and he's standing right there. So I get up and have words with him and he looked at me crazy. So he had his opportunity at the end of the game to make a call, a deciding call vTC that cost us the game. They fine us for that kind of stuff, so they should fine him, too."
Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis said: "Any loss is tough, but this is especially tough. Like last year, we played so hard. I can understand if we kill ourselves, but we can't go against the officials for that part of the game. We've got to live with it."
The Ravens brought in veteran tackle Tony Siragusa to add some experience and strength to the Ravens' defense, but he gave his teammates some parting wisdom yesterday.
"From all my years in the NFL, I have learned that you never leave the outcome of the game on the decision of an official," he said. "We didn't give up, we came back, but at the same time you have to take advantage of opportunities. I'm not going to judge my teammates, only myself after watching the film. But this leaves a bad taste in our mouths, and tomorrow we begin washing it out."
The Ravens had taken a 24-21 lead when Jackson turned a short pass over the middle into a 54-yard touchdown with 13: 58 left in the third quarter.
The Ravens went ahead 27-21 on a 25-yard field goal by Matt Stover with 8: 46 left in the game, but a touchdown at that point may have put Jacksonville away.
The Ravens had three opportunities to score from the 5-yard line before Stover's field goal, but twice Testaverde threw incomplete to Jermaine Lewis and then ran a draw to running back Earnest Byner on third down.
Marchibroda defended the passing plays despite Byner (63 yards on 14 carries) having run for 19 and 7 yards on two of the three previous plays.
"Some days you hit them, some days you don't," he said. "Today we didn't hit them."
One person who was hitting the big passes was Johnson, who completed 20 of 24 passes for 294 yards and two touchdowns despite leaving the game twice with a sprained left ankle. Johnson's winning pass was down the left sideline after Smith beat cornerback Donny Brady, who seemed to be looking for some safety support.
"They had a new safety in there and we went after him," said Johnson. "He hugged in on Keenan [slot receiver Keenan McCardell] and Jimmy ran by him."
The Ravens had no one who could stop McCardell out of the slot as he finished with six catches for 84 yards. Smith also had six receptions for 106 yards.
"They did some things we didn't expect, we didn't see on the film from last year," said Ravens rookie outside linebacker Jamie Sharper. "I was hyped for the run and they came out passing."
Jacksonville opened the game with an eight-play, 84-yard drive in which the Jaguars did whatever they wanted to the Ravens. Jacksonville went right after Frederick, who was filling in for Michael McCrary, out with knee problems.
Jacksonville pounded the 245-pound Means behind left offensive tackle Tony Boselli for 15 yards on three plays in the drive, and Johnson was on target with the play-action passes before the quarterback finished the drive with a 25-yard scoring run.
Jacksonville was just as effective on its second possession, scoring on a 1-yard run by Means around left end. The big plays in the 12-play, 93-yard drive were a 23-yard reception by fullback Ty Hallock and a 31-yard reception by James Stewart on a flare pass in the right flat down to the 1.
The Ravens answered with a 17-point outburst in the second quarter, thanks largely to 17- and 42-yard touchdown receptions from slot receiver Jermaine Lewis. Lewis, the second-year receiver from the University of Maryland, had four catches for 73 yards.
The Ravens' passing attack was inconsistent as. Testaverde played one of his worst games in a Ravens uniform. Despite completing 24 of 41 passes for 322 yards and three touchdowns, Testaverde threw one interception that eventually led to a 20-yard touchdown pass from Johnson to Smith with 1: 08 left in the half, and another interception way behind Lewis with 2: 01 left in the game that stopped the drive at the Jaguars' 45.
"I wasn't really able to come through on some of those throws," said Testaverde, who sustained a thigh bruise in the second quarter. "We have to be able to come up with those plays."
Despite the loss, the Ravens seemed upbeat. Jackson said the Ravens were the better team and told fans to stay with the team as it improves. Siragusa and Ray Lewis also said the best was yet to come.
"Again, for all you doubting Thomases here, you saw a football team that played the team to a standstill, the team that almost went to the Super Bowl last year," said Marchibroda. "I think we did a good job from the standpoint to spot those guys a 14-point lead and come down right to the end."
Pub Date: 9/01/97