On Sunday, Priest delivers miracle to the faithful


Straight to confession, Ted:

What took you so long?

His name is Priest. And last night, he made an entire town believe.

The running back controversy is over. The quarterback controversy is over. Coach Ted is shouting, "Hallelujah!"

Forgive us, Ted, for we have second-guessed.

Just make sure to visit your Priest every Sunday.

After last night's nationally televised baptism, Jay Graham and Errict Rhett no longer have a prayer of starting.

"I think we've found our halfback," Marchibroda said.

By the end of the first quarter, Priest Holmes had rushed for 88 yards, more than any Ravens running back this season.

For the game, he carried 27 times for 173 yards and two touchdowns, delighting the congregation at the Church of the PSL, leading the Ravens to a 31-24 victory.

Starting Priest appeared to be a serious leap of faith, but who isn't a convert now?

The Ravens tried to revert to their former selves, turning a 21-0 rout into an all-too-familiar nail-biter, but for once, there was no need to administer last rites.

The headline could have been "Not even a Priest could save the Ravens."

Instead, it's "Priest delivers salvation."

Holmes wasn't the only hero, not on a night Jermaine Lewis scored touchdowns on a 73-yard pass and an electrifying 87-yard punt return.

But afterward, Lewis stood outside the interview room, yelling to Holmes: "You shocked the world, baby! You shocked the world!"

Lewis smiled mischievously.

"Been sleeping on the little man," he said.

Holmes' mother, Norma Morris, was in the family room, overcome by the moment.

"Words cannot even explain the joy we felt in our hearts," said Morris, who was visiting from San Antonio.

Holmes' family watched him conduct his post-game interview on closed-circuit television.

"My dad's on TV!" Holmes' 5-year-old son, De' Andre, shouted to a reporter. "Behind you!"

He was on TV, all right.

All night long.

The Ravens committed four penalties and allowed a 97-yard kickoff return on special teams. Left guard Wally Williams killed a fourth-quarter drive with back-to-back penalties. Cornerback DeRon Jenkins was abused virtually the entire night.

But at least the Ravens had an offense -- 411 yards' worth.

They blocked. They threw deep. They unveiled a running back who could hit holes, cut back, break tackles, even pick up a blitz.

You know, do the things running backs do.

We know, we know -- the Bengals are the Bengals.

But the previous week, they had held the Green Bay Packers to their lowest point total in 17 games, and 2.9 yards per carry.

Holmes benefited from the offensive line's best performance of the season, darting through holes far bigger than Graham and Rhett saw in the first three games.

Still, his team-record 47-yard run in the third quarter was everything the Ravens thought Graham could deliver, and everything they fear that Rhett cannot.

"I got my confidence from studying tape," said Holmes, one of the Ravens' hardest workers. "I knew exactly what I had to do."

Graham carried twice for 11 yards. Rhett played in certain short-yardage situations, and delivered a critical first down on a fourth-and-one at the Bengals' 29 in the fourth quarter.

But the night belonged to Holmes.

An undrafted free agent out of Texas, he played exclusively on special teams last season, and appeared in just seven games.

"We came to the very first game, and we were so disappointed -- he didn't even get to dress up -- he was sitting in the stands with us," his mother said.

"We were glad to see him, but we wanted him to have his uniform on, at least take a picture of him."

Well, she has an entire highlight film now.

Holmes entered the game with only seven NFL carries. He had only one attempt the previous two games.

But Marchibroda took the risk of giving him his first start on national television.

Nobody, but nobody, needed this game more than Coach Ted.

The Ravens were looking at 2-6 with a loss -- and that was assuming they could beat Tennessee at home entering a killer three-game stretch against Pittsburgh, Green Bay and Jacksonville.

Now they're looking at 3-2 with a victory over Tennessee. And if they manage to steal one of the three games after that, they'll be 4-4 entering the second half of the season, when the schedule becomes easier.

An elite team in '98?

Not exactly.

But at least they've got Priest. At least they've won the two games they figured to win.

Together we say, "Amen."

Fast out of the gate

The Ravens rushed out to a 14-0 lead with a dominant first quarter against the Bengals last night. A statistical look:

Statistic .. .. .. .. Bengals .. .. .. Ravens

First downs .. .. .. .. .. .1 .. .. .. .. .11

Third-down eff. .. .. .. .1-2 .. .. .. .. 3-3

Offensive plays .. .. .. .. 6 .. .. .. ... 22

Rushes-yards .. .. .. .. 3-11 .. .. .. .15-86

Passes com.-att. .. .. .. 1-3 .. .. .. .. 6-7

Passing yards .. .. .. .. . 5 .. .. .. ... 47

Net yards .. .. .. .. .. ..16 .. .. .. ...133

Time of possession .. .. 2:55 .. .. .. .12:05

Pub Date: 9/28/98

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