NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Jonathan Ogden and Orlando Brown walked past reporters with the aid of crutches. Wally Williams looked uncomfortable wearing a neck brace. As Jeff Blackshear sat down on a stool in front of his locker, the pain of a pulled groin muscle was written on his face.
As much as anything, yesterday's 16-14 loss will be remembered as the day the Ravens' offensive line turned into a hospital ward.
By game's end, 60 percent of the line had gone down with injuries, leaving backup Jeff Mitchell at center in place of Williams and starting left guard James Atkins replacing Ogden at left tackle. Backup Ben Cavil filled in for much of the fourth quarter for right guard Blackshear, who limped back into action after Ogden went down.
Had Blackshear not returned, the Ravens would have been forced to move tight end Eric Green to left tackle, because no one besides Atkins is equipped for that position.
The Ravens were simply out of offensive linemen.
"That's the first time I can ever remember anything like that happening, losing three linemen [Williams, Blackshear, Ogden] in one game," Ravens coach Ted Marchibroda said. "I've never had to think about making a decision like that [playing a tight end at left tackle] before.
"When you see a Jeff Blackshear limp off the field, you know something is wrong. When you see Ogden limp off the field, you know something is wrong."
Marchibroda spoke of two linemen who define durability and consistency. Ogden, a Pro Bowl tackle, who, in his third year, is recognized as one of the league's best, has never missed a start. He missed his first play since 1996 yesterday at Vanderbilt Stadium. Blackshear also had not missed a play in the past two seasons.
The trouble started during the Ravens' second possession. On the second or third play, Williams took a shot to the helmet and felt a pain shoot through his neck and upper back. By the end of the first quarter, Mitchell, who started seven games at center before Williams took back his old job, had come off the sideline.
"I got a good shot to the face, which is something that happens to me every game, but this one started some spasms [in his neck]," Williams said. "I had some problems with my neck last week, but this is something else. I'll have to see how it feels in a few days."
X-rays were negative, although Williams was found to have suffered a cervical strain. He'll be re-evaluated in Baltimore today.
The Williams injury was merely a prelude to the freak occurrences in crunch time.
Two minutes into the fourth quarter, Blackshear limped off the field with a pulled groin (he also had been kicked). In went Cavil to replace him. Then, with just over eight minutes left and the Ravens beginning a drive at their 20 while trailing 13-7, Ogden badly injured his left ankle on a play in which quarterback Jim Harbaugh took a 9-yard sack.
But, with no one immediately available to replace Ogden -- Atkins, the top backup tackle, was still manning the left guard spot where he had started the past three games -- the third-year star was left to play in excruciating pain for the rest of the series. The Ravens punted after three downs.
Ogden, who suffered sprained ligaments in his ankle, could barely move during those plays. All he could do was use his long arms to protect himself against further harm. He fell to the turf in agony after each whistle had blown.
"I was just out there wasting time, taking up space. I knew I was no good after that," Ogden said. "I tried to shake it off [on the field]. Then I tried to work it off [on the sideline]. I've got two bad ankles right now. The right one was already a little sore before today."
With Ogden out, Blackshear kept Green from changing positions by re-entering the contest, leaving Atkins at left tackle. Right tackle Orlando Brown also had suffered sprained ligaments in his left ankle, but Brown remained in the game. He walked past reporters in the post-game locker room with crutches and a scowl.
Initial X-rays on Brown and Ogden were negative. Both will be re-evaluated today.
Pub Date: 12/07/98