In untidy position, Ravens tied up in unfinished business


Say this for the Ravens: They weren't buying this tie business.

"There is no alternative to winning," said defensive end Michael McCrary. "That was a loss."

That, it was.

A 10-10 "loss" that, in some ways, was even worse than last week's 37-0 loss to the Steelers.

That might sound crazy, considering that the Ravens played much harder and better against the Eagles yesterday than they did against the Steelers last week.

But they were just out of it against the Steelers, so freakishly bad that you just tossed the game out, like a bad race at the track, or a carton of milk that was already spoiled when you opened it. Everyone knew the Ravens weren't that bad.

Yesterday was different. The Ravens had a chance. More than just a chance, actually. They played well enough to win, put themselves in position to win -- and still found a way not to win.

The result wasn't a blowout, but a tie/loss that never should have been, a result that exposed the Ravens yet again as a team that can't stand prosperity.

A team that is almost certain to break your heart.

There is no way they shouldn't have beaten the Eagles yesterday.

They had nine sacks of Eagles quarterback Bobby Hoying, dominating the game with their pass rush. They had more than 200 rushing yards, including 154 from Jay Graham, to a mere 63 for the Eagles. They had a 10-3 lead with 3: 40 to play, at which point Hoying hadn't driven his offense more than 33 yards on any of its 10 possessions.

So what happened? With the game on the line, Hoying suddenly turned into Joe Montana, driving the Eagles 60 yards to the tying touchdown in five plays.

After playing brilliantly all afternoon, the Ravens' defense crumbled in the clutch against a second-year quarterback making his first career start.

At such moments, make no mistake, are the winners separated from the, well, do we have to say it?

"We just didn't get it done when it counted," said McCrary, who had three sacks.

Just as they didn't get it done in overtime against the Jets, or in the second half of the first game against the Steelers, or late in the fourth quarter against the Chargers, or in a half-dozen close losses last year.

"I have no idea what it is," McCrary said. "I sit here and I wonder. Things just don't click when we need them to click. It doesn't make any sense. We do a good job the whole game and then we don't finish it off."

Sound familiar?

No, you couldn't call them the same, old Ravens on a day when the defense carried the offense again -- how's that for a switch? -- but the way they blew a near-certain victory was as familiar as the gray November sky.

"As we have learned in the last year and a half, anything that can go wrong will go wrong," said quarterback Vinny Testaverde.

And a lot more went wrong for the Ravens in overtime after they blew that lead in regulation.

They reached the Eagles' 32 on their first series, in position for a game-winning field-goal attempt by Matt Stover, but Graham was dropped for a 4-yard loss on third-and-two and Ryan Yarborough blew a pass route on fourth down, leading to a sack of Testaverde.

The Eagles seemed set to pull off the win after Hoying drove their offense to the Ravens' 33, but a couple of dropped passes ruined the drive.

Suddenly, it was all too clear why both teams had losing records.

The Canadian Football League's Grey Cup -- originally scheduled for yesterday at Memorial Stadium -- would have been crisper, that's for sure.

To finish off yesterday's untidiness, the Ravens and Eagles each blew one more scoring chance in the last minutes of overtime, with Stover and the Eagles' Chris Boniol each missing a potential game-winning kick.

After Boniol's miss on the last play, the referee turned on his microphone and announced to the crowd, "When a game ends in a tie, it ends in a tie."

No kidding.

Except this was a tie that was a loss for the Ravens, whose slim playoff hopes were reduced to microscopic.

Coach Ted Marchibroda keeps talking about "running the table" -- winning out -- but with only one win since September, the Ravens aren't even on the table.

"We'll just have to go 9-6-1," said Marchibroda, who will never be accused of being pessimistic.

Not that there weren't reasons to feel optimistic yesterday. Marvin Lewis' defense is coming together nicely, having played well for a month. Graham's performance was a terrific sign for the running game, which faces the possibility of losing Bam Morris in a bail revocation hearing in eight days.

It was a positive sign that the Ravens rebounded from Pittsburgh to play a dominating game.

But the same, old woes ruined their day.

They drove into Eagles territory eight times and scored only twice.

"Not getting it done in the red zone killed us," tackle Jonathan Ogden said.

They gave away points on a Testaverde interception at the end of the first half.

Testaverde went on to throw another interception in the second half, and avoided a lost fumble in Ravens territory only because the refs blew the call.

Yadda, yadda, yadda.

"Do you have bad luck?" Marchibroda was asked.

"I don't think so," he said. "We have to take advantage of opportunities. We have to make the big play."

They don't -- not nearly often enough, at least.

That's not bad luck.

That's something very, very different.

Pub Date: 11/17/97

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