At least Ravens' script keeps plot interesting until very end Cardinals 16, Ravens 13

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Another nail-biting finish, another frustrating loss.

This is getting to be a discouraging pattern for the Ravens.

For the third time in the past four games, the Ravens' game at Memorial Stadium yesterday was decided on the final play.

But they're 0-2-1 in those games and 4-7-1 overall after a disheartening 16-13 loss to the Arizona Cardinals on Joe Nedney's 43-yard field goal on the final play.

The thousands of no-shows and no-buys (they sold 53,976 tickets but didn't announce the no-shows) who stayed home to watch Green Bay's rout of Dallas missed another thrilling finish.

It's almost as if the Ravens are following a script. As they did against the New York Jets and Philadelphia Eagles, the defense played well most of the game and then gave up a big drive at the end. This time, rookie Jake Plummer moved the team 55 yards in the last half-minute against a prevent defense and a patched-up secondary to set up the game-winner.

The difference this time was that the Cardinals came in as a 2-9 team with a rookie quarterback and a shaky offensive line and still found a way to beat the Ravens. That finally prompted Ted Marchibroda to admit the obvious. He's coaching with a short deck. He said the "lack of competition" for jobs because of the lack of depth probably hurts and said there's going to have to be some changes. The Ravens, with 52 players on their roster, are one short of the maximum allowed of 53.

Marchibroda also noted that his team doesn't play smart and makes too many costly penalties. Marchibroda said he believes in being positive, but with the team out of the race, this was his most candid public critique. He was obviously upset and said he wasn't sending a message, even though it was obvious he was.

One thing that will help next year is that the club won't be charged for $7 million against the salary cap for players who aren't on the team and can be more aggressive in the free-agent market instead of settling for players who dropped their price tags.

The more immediate concern is how the team plays in the last four games with nothing at stake except their pride.

Highlights and lowlights of the loss that finally showed the Ravens simply aren't yet good enough to be a playoff contender.

Turning point: With 15 seconds left, the Cardinals were on their 42, well out of field-goal range. Plummer then found Rob Moore open for a 27-yard play that gave the Cardinals a first down on the Baltimore 31 with seven seconds left. A quick pass to Anthony Edwards got 6 more yards and set up Nedney's game-winner.

Prevent defense: For much of the game, the Cardinals' offense seemed built around the concept of denying Ravens fans cheap pizza by avoiding sacks. They used short drops and tried draw plays and screens to limit the Ravens to just two sacks, even though they didn't gain much yardage. But with 34 seconds left, the Ravens pulled back the rush and came with a three-man line, dropping eight players in coverage even though Eugene Daniel, Rondell Jones and Kim Herring were all ailing. That gave Plummer time to throw and he took advantage of the soft coverage to win the game.

Ground game: For the second straight game, the Ravens managed to upset the conventional wisdom that an edge in the " running game translates into victory. Last week, they outrushed Philadelphia 204-63 and settled for a tie. Against the Cardinals, they had a 129-71 edge and lost. Bam Morris rushed for 88 yards after Jay Graham was limited to one carry on his sore ankle. But they're going to have to replace Morris because they can't depend on him to avoid off-the-field problems.

Home not so sweet home: The Ravens won't have fond memories of their last year in Memorial Stadium. They're 1-4-1 with two games left. On the road, they're 3-3.

Testaverde file: The Ravens did all the right things to win with Vinny Testaverde at quarterback. They ran a conservative offense from a two-tight end offense much of the game and limited his mistakes. He didn't throw an interception and fumbled just once (Morris recovered). But he didn't make big plays, either. With a first down on the Arizona 16 with two minutes left, he had a 6-yard completion, a sack and an incomplete pass.

Best drive: On a 12-play, 80-yard drive that lasted 6: 24 for their only touchdown drive in the third quarter, the Ravens looked like the team they thought they could be this season. They mixed eight Morris runs with a 38-yard completion to Michael Jackson and a 6-yarder to Eric Green. If only the Ravens could play that way all the time.

Tackling too soon: With one second left in the first half, the Cardinals tackled Derrick Alexander, enabling the Ravens to call timeout and kick a field goal. The Ravens did the same thing to Anthony Edwards with three seconds left in the game. In both instances, the defense would have been better off letting the receiver run 5 more yards and letting the clock run out before making the tackle. But tackling is so instinctive for players that it's difficult to let receivers run a few more yards.

Bonehead play I: With 1: 06 left in the second quarter, the Cardinals called a timeout after being stopped on third down. That gave the Ravens time to come back for a field goal. Matt Joyce called for the timeout after seeing Jake Plummer trying to signal it from the bottom of the pile. Plummer thought it was third down, not fourth.

Bonehead play II: When Testaverde slid to a stop at the Baltimore 34 on third down with 2: 28 left, former Raven Mike Caldwell came in with a late hit to give the Ravens a first down at the 49 and keep the game-tying drive alive.

Going for it: Facing a fourth-and-goal at the Baltimore 4 with 8: 34 left, the Cardinals, trailing 10-6, decided not to take a field goal to cut it to 10-9. They went for the touchdown and Plummer threw a strike to Frank Sanders for a 13-10 lead. Coach Vince Tobin said he might have gone for the field goal if the Cardinals had been 9 yards out.

Stuffed: The Ravens had a second-and-one at the Baltimore 26 late in the second quarter. Bam Morris was stopped inches short when he tried to run right on second down and then Testaverde was stopped an inch short with a quarterback sneak on third down.

Not-so-special teams: The Ravens gave up 170 yards of return yardage while they got only 80. The result was the Ravens started their average drive at their 23, while the Cardinals began on their 35.

Best matchup: In a duel between the third and fourth players picked in the 1996 draft, Jonathan Ogden had the edge as he held Simeon Rice without a sack. Rice, who only had three tackles, even moved to the other side on occasion.

Conservative call: On third-and-13 from the Baltimore 8 with about five minutes left in the first half, the Ravens played it safe and called for a run by Earnest Byner that went 11 yards and punted. The Ravens obviously didn't want to risk a big Testaverde mistake deep in their own territory.

Zebras: Plummer appeared to fumble at the Baltimore 4 on the Cardinals' first drive although the officials ruled he was down before he lost the ball. That saved the Ravens four points because the Cardinals, who went on to kick a field goal, appeared to recover it in the end zone. In the third quarter, they failed to call Daniel for grabbing the back of Rob Moore's shirt that should have wiped out a Jones interception.

Looking ahead: The Ravens, now 1-6-1 in their past eight games, face a tough test at Jacksonville next Sunday. The Browns-Ravens are 0-5 against Jacksonville. It won't be a good time to face the Jaguars because they're coming off a loss at Cincinnati.

Pub Date: 11/24/97

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