NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- All Ravens coach Ted Marchibroda could do was seethe.
At a time in which NFL officials have come under intense fire, and on a day on which they nearly lost control of a sloppy, emotional, penalty-marred contest, the Ravens can point to a moment when an official's decision directly affected their 16-14 loss to Tennessee.
It happened four minutes into the fourth quarter, with the Ravens trailing 13-7 and stuck on their 28 in a second-and-24 situation. Quarterback Jim Harbaugh, flushed out of the pocket, darted left and took off toward the Ravens' sideline.
There, in front of the entire Baltimore bench, Oilers linebacker Joe Bowden blasted Harbaugh. Replays showed Harbaugh was a step out of bounds before Bowden sent him sprawling.
No flag. No call. Just a 9-yard gain by Harbaugh, who was sacked on the next play, after which the Ravens punted. Had an unnecessary-roughness penalty been assessed, the Ravens would have been awarded a first-and-10 at their 43.
After the play, the Ravens' sideline erupted in protest.
"He said Harbaugh was in bounds [on contact]," Marchibroda said, referring to referee Ed Hochuli. "It happened right in front of us. Every player hollered. Everybody on the sideline yelled. How could 30 people be wrong?"
Soon after that play, a melee broke out in front of the Tennessee bench, prompting the officiating crew to warn both teams to take control of their emotions.
"It got out of hand with the late hits," outside linebacker Jamie Sharper said. "When teams get close to fighting, that's when you have got to start making more calls, but [the officials] wanted to keep the flags in their pockets or call offsetting penalties. We're lucky no one got hurt out there because we had two tough teams battling it out."
Although the Ravens looked unimpressive as a whole on defense early, allowing Tennessee to score on its first three possessions, at least Sharper brought his A game to Vanderbilt Stadium.
Twice on the Oilers' first drive, Sharper slashed into the backfield to disrupt plays, holding Eddie George to a 1-yard gain and quarterback Steve McNair to no gain. On Tennessee's second possession, which ended up as a 61-yard touchdown drive, Sharper did all he could to keep the Oilers out of the Ravens' end zone.
On a first-and-10 from the Baltimore 12, Sharper fought off a block and forced George inside, where Rob Burnett dropped him after a 2-yard gain. On the next play, McNair's pass to Yancey Thigpen was broken up by Sharper on the goal line.
Sharper's efforts went for naught, as George scored two plays later on a 2-yard run to give the Oilers a 10-0 lead with 41 seconds left in the quarter.
The way Sharper sees it, he made more plays simply because he was allowed to remain on the field more often than usual. Ravens defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis typically has pulled Sharper on passing downs, since Sharper has not been part of the team's nickel package.
"Marvin kept us in a base [4-3 defense] a lot more today, even when the Oilers had the field spread [with multiple receivers]," said Sharper, who finished with five tackles -- four solo -- and a pass deflection.
"Marvin knows I want to be on the field as much as possible."
Pushing them back
With all of the ineffective offense that graced Vanderbilt Stadium, yesterday's game largely boiled down to a battle of field position. It also turned the spotlight on the team's respective punters.
Tennessee's Craig Hentrich won the confrontation with the Ravens' Kyle Richardson. In a rout.
Playing with a pulled groin muscle, Hentrich, who entered the game leading the NFL with a 48.6-yard average, buried the Ravens. He punted seven times for a 46.1-yard average, and in coach Jeff Fisher's ultra-conservative game plan in the second half, Hentrich played a crucial role.
Hentrich came up especially huge in the fourth quarter, when his three punts averaged 56.6 yards and forced the Ravens to begin from their 29, 20 and from their 18 on their final drive.
Richardson was decent at times, horrendous at others. His first two punts went for a meager 37 and 32 yards, and allowed the Oilers to begin scoring drives from their own 44 and 39.
He hit bottom with 6: 40 left in the game and the Ravens pinned back on their 15 and trailing 13-7. Richardson promply shanked a wobbly, 21-yard punt that gave Tennessee the ball at the Ravens' 36. Five plays later, Tennessee settled for a 34-yard field goal by Al Del Greco that proved to be the cushion the Oilers needed.
Roe's presence felt
James Roe did not get a chance to be the hero, even though he was wide-open down the left sideline on Harbaugh's final pass of the night, which was picked off. But with two catches for 33 yards, including a 27-yard reception that set up a fourth-quarter touchdown pass to Floyd Turner, Roe made his first start of 1998 count.
"It felt good. Hopefully, if Jermaine [Lewis] can't make it back by next week, I can get back in there and help us again," he said.
Ravens snapper Brian Kinchen, who was fined $7,500 for retaliating against Gary Walker in the teams' first meeting, was irate because he said Walker and his teammates were going after him on every snap and yet it was him who was called for a penalty in the fourth quarter. He said Walker should be fined.
"It's ridiculous that they fine me for something I did as a reaction and yet he literally takes me out on every play," Kinchen said. "On the punt return, I go down to make a tackle and the guy's on the sideline and he kicks me. I simply retaliate after they came after me the fifth time and the referee throws a flag on me.
"I told them [officials] you can't let this guy come after me. I told him, 'I'm not going to stand around and be defenseless.' I'm going to have to retaliate. I'm not going to sit there and be a punching bag for this guy. If he doesn't suffer from this, it's ridiculous. I paid my fine and he should have to pay his twice over.
"They consistently tried to drive me way beyond the whistle. What am I supposed to do? And then on the punt team the guy comes after me. I'm sorry, but as an athlete and a competitor, you're not going to sit there and just take it."
Kinchen said the officials didn't do anything to stop it.
"They were oblivious," he said. "They didn't have a clue. The guy is driving me into the turf and I'm supposed to sit there and do nothing about it. And all they do is look at me like it's my fault. I'm 230 pounds. These guys are 300 pounds and there's two of them going after me. I'm just supposed to sit there? It shouldn't be a part of the game."
He said he didn't even know Walker's first name.
"All is know is he's a thug. They ought to fine his butt," he said.
Ravens running back Priest Holmes, who rushed for 400 yards in two games against Cincinnati, finished with 54 yards in his two encounters with Tennessee. Middle linebacker Ray Lewis had his hands full trying to cover Oilers tight ends Michael Roan and Frank Wycheck yesterday. They combined for 11 catches and 103 yards. The local fans, which have yet to embrace their new team, evidenced by yesterday's crowd -- about 10,000 shy of a sellout at a stadium that seats 41,000 -- are not allowed to be served beer at Vanderbilt Stadium, home of the Commodores of the NCAA's Southeastern Conference. The Oilers entered yesterday's game with a league-low 19 sacks, then proceeded to record a season-high six. Out of their 25 sacks on the year, nine have come against the Ravens. Oilers guard Bruce Matthews extended his club record and current NFL-long streak of games started to 178.
The Oilers were last in league in sacks with 19 before yesterday, but they reached Jim Harbaugh six times for 51 yards to help beat the Ravens:
Player(s) .. .. Qtr. .. .. .. Play .. .. .. Yards
A. Cook .. .. .. 1 .. .. .. . 2nd-and-9 .. .. . 8
K. Holmes .. ... 2 .. .. .. . 3rd-and-6 .. ... 12
L. Marts .. .. . 3 .. .. ... 1st-and-10 .. .. . 8
S. Rolle .. .. . 4 .. .. ... 3rd-and-15 .. .. . 8
J. Evans .. .. . 4 .. .. ... 1st-and-10 .. .. . 9
S. Rolle .. .. . 4 .. .. ... 1st-and-10 .. .. . 6
Pub Date: 12/07/98