EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- This loss was the killer. The one the Ravens might regret the most. The one that might have ruined their season.
They're 4-5 when they could have been 5-4, and now they must visit Pittsburgh, where the franchise hasn't won since 1989.
Four of the Ravens' five games after that are at Memorial Stadium, but chances are, they'll be trying to get back to .500, not fighting for a playoff spot.
It could have been different. It should have been different. But instead of pulling out a huge victory yesterday, the Ravens lost to the New York Jets in overtime, 19-16.
"It was a big opportunity for us," quarterback Vinny Testaverde said. "Looking back, we could say that if we had won this game, we're going to Pittsburgh on Sunday night with a chance to make a big jump in our division."
Looking back, the Ravens will kick themselves, wondering how they ever lost this game.
They out-gained the Jets in regulation, 447 yards to 165.
They got another monster performance from Bam Morris.
And they tied the score after a 16-yard touchdown pass from Testaverde to Derrick Alexander with three seconds remaining.
"We really needed to win that coin toss in overtime to keep the momentum," Alexander said.
There was just one problem.
"I can't win a coin toss to save my life," said Testaverde, the Ravens' answer to Charlie Brown.
Testaverde called heads. The coin came up tails. The Jets marched 60 yards in 12 plays, and John Hall kicked a 37-yard field goal for the decisive score.
"This is really tough to deal with," defensive end Michael McCrary said. "I thought we'd come in here and beat 'em. I didn't think we'd have many problems."
They didn't, actually.
They held Neil O'Donnell to 96 yards passing. They held Adrian Murrell to 42 yards rushing. They didn't allow a touchdown after the first 2 minutes, 4 seconds.
Still, these are the Ravens.
How did they lose thee?
Let us count thy ways:
Soft defense in overtime. Most of the game was played in a downpour, making it difficult to throw. But the Ravens' secondary returned to form once it stopped raining, and the Jets' Glenn Foley completed five of nine passes for 63 yards in overtime.
"He had some easy throws to make," coach Ted Marchibroda TTC said, apparently in criticism of the Ravens' defensive scheme at the game's most critical juncture.
Short-yardage failures. The Ravens failed to get first downs on third-and-one their first three possessions. They also botched a third-and-two at the Jets' 4 in the second quarter and a third-and-two and fourth-and-two at the Jets' 13 in the fourth.
Poor special teams coverage. This is the Jets' biggest area of improvement under Bill Parcells, but that's no excuse. The Ravens allowed 160 yards on punt and kickoff returns, repeatedly giving New York good field position.
Turnovers. The conditions were horrible, but that also is no excuse. The Jets didn't commit a turnover. The Jets have only nine giveaways all season. The Jets are 6-3.
They committed two second-half turnovers, leading to six points. The first was an interception by Testaverde. The second was a fumble by Morris. What, you expected perfection?
Not from a team that leads the NFL in passing offense, and still leaves you wondering about its quarterback play.
Receiver Jermaine Lewis was an equal culprit on the interception, failing to come back for the ball and break up the play. But Testaverde slipped after a pump fake and threw from his knees.
Then there was Morris, whose 130-yard effort was marred by his fumble in Jets' territory with the Ravens trailing by four points early in the fourth quarter.
The play should have proven decisive, especially after Otis Smith returned the fumble 40 yards to the Ravens' 14.
But even then, the game wasn't over.
Testaverde threw for an astonishing 124 yards on the final two drives. The Ravens didn't score on the first -- Testaverde threw too high for Eric Green in the end zone on third down, and Alexander slipped as the intended receiver on fourth.
But they got the ball back again just after the two-minute warning, rolled down the field in their no-huddle offense and finally produced the tying score.
"You couldn't say this was a bad ballgame on the Ravens' part," Marchibroda said. "If we play like this every week, we'll win a lot of ballgames. If we come back in the late stages to tie it up, we'll win a lot of ballgames."
Perhaps, but here's a statistic for Marchibroda to consider: The Ravens are 0-5 when Testaverde throws 40 or more passes, 4-0 when he throws fewer.
And next they play at Three Rivers Stadium, a house of horrors for this franchise ever since it opened in 1970.
The Ravens could get lucky -- the Steelers will be coming off a short week after playing tonight at Kansas City. But don't count on it.
The Browns/Ravens franchise has lost eight straight games in Pittsburgh and 24 of 28 overall.
That's why yesterday was so important.
That's why yesterday was so crushing.
"It hurts a little bit more because of what it meant to us, what it could have meant," Marchibroda said. "We could have been 5-4 at this point, right in the thick of things."
Instead, they're 4-5, likely to be 4-6.
This loss was the killer.
Next for Ravens
Opponent: Pittsburgh Steelers
Site: Three Rivers Stadium, Pittsburgh
When: Sunday, 8 p.m. TV/Radio: ESPN/WJFK (1300 AM), WLIF (101.9 FM)
Line: Steelers by 7
Series: Steelers lead 2-1
Last meeting: Steelers won, 42-34, on Oct. 5 at Memorial Stadium
Pub Date: 11/03/97