It appeared to be the biggest mismatch of the day. The Ravens' offensive line, which was missing three starters and playing another one out of position, was going to taste defeat early and often against the front four of the 12-1 Minnesota Vikings.
Or were they?
Lost amid yesterday's turnover-marred, 38-28 loss to the Vikings was a surprisingly strong performance by Ravens center Jeff Mitchell, guards Jeff Blackshear and Ben Cavil, and tackles James Atkins and Spencer Folau.
Blackshear, who suffered an abdominal muscle pull in last week's 16-14 loss in Tennessee, was the only starter to answer the call at his normal position. Atkins shifted from left guard to left tackle, replacing Jonathan Ogden, who missed the first game of his three-year career.
And on a day in which the Ravens ran up a respectable 267 yards, including 202 in the second half -- those numbers were pretty much squashed by six turnovers -- Atkins shined against Minnesota Pro Bowler John Randle.
The Ravens, who gained 3.4 yards per carry, but only ran the ball 16 times, did not allow a sack. Randle finished with one tackle.
"It was good facing Randle. He didn't say anything to me after the game. He just ran right off the field real fast. I think he was [ticked] off," Atkins said. "If I didn't block him [well], people would just say they didn't expect it. If I do block him, people will notice. I wanted to get a lot of respect today, and I shut him down."
Atkins, originally a defensive lineman at Southwest Louisiana, converted to offensive line after being signed as an undrafted free agent by Seattle in 1993. He went on to start every game from 1995 through 1996 at left tackle there, before moving to guard last year. The Ravens signed him to a two-year contract last winter, filling a need at backup tackle.
Atkins had started the last three games at left guard, before replacing Ogden.
"I consider myself a starter in this league, whether I play left tackle or left guard," Atkins said.
Folau made the first start of his three-year career by replacing Orlando Brown, who saw his streak of 69 consecutive starts (71 including playoffs) ended. The streak goes back to Brown's days as a Cleveland player.
"I think they played rather well," coach Ted Marchibroda said of his line. "If you [reporters] didn't know they were patchwork, you probably wouldn't have asked the question. The fact that you didn't notice them until the game was over [was good]."
Turner comes through
Veteran wide receiver Floyd Turner promised to deliver a productive game last week, and he wasn't kidding. Filling in for the injured Jermaine Lewis for the second straight week, Turner tied his career high with 10 catches, good for a game-high 147 yards and a touchdown.
Turner's 42-yard touchdown pass from Jim Harbaugh cut Minnesota's lead to 35-20 with 12: 05 left in the contest. He also caught the two-point conversion pass that accounted for the game's final points.
Yesterday marked Turner's third straight game with a touchdown and his second consecutive 100-yard game. It also moved Turner into second place on the team in receiving yards (463). He has five touchdown catches, putting him just one behind team leader Lewis.
"I do have a good rapport with Jim. I've played with him before and I know him and he knows me," Turner said . "It's all about finding the seams and holes and having confidence he'll get you the ball. It's frustrating to play well, then make mistakes and lose. I'm happy for the performance, but you would rather win. You have to be precise; you have to be more effort-free to beat a ballclub like Minnesota."
Turner also moved into a tie with Michael Jackson for fourth on the squad in receptions (27). Jackson, who was available yesterday after missing two games with a sprained foot, did not see action. He practiced for two days last week. James Roe started again in his place.
"I'm not upset about not starting. I felt if I practiced, I'd play, but it didn't happen," Jackson said. "Maybe [the coaches] didn't think I was ready. I'm just a vehicle. I can't move until somebody puts me in drive."
Rhett gets the call
After watching Priest Holmes lose two fumbles and drop a pass, Marchibroda replaced him with the forgotten Errict Rhett, who didn't exactly overwhelm with 16 rushing yards on seven carries. But Rhett sure felt better about his contribution. It was the busiest he has been in three months.
"When the thoroughbred comes out of that barn, he ain't coming out walking. He's been in the barn too long," said Rhett, who was sporting a dirty uniform and a bloody knee.
"Man, I've got some grass stains. I've got some blood. I'm going to take a picture of this."
Hoard busy, bruised
Former Raven Leroy Hoard shouldered most of the ground game for Minnesota. Filling in once again for the injured Robert Smith, Hoard was held to 68 yards on 26 carries.
Hoard also was the recipient of several nasty hits by strong safety Stevon Moore.
Moore and Hoard were teammates with the Cleveland Browns.
"I talked to [Hoard] after every play," said Moore, who recorded four tackles and a pass deflection. "Every time I hit him, I said, 'It's me again. I'll be here all day.' We did a good job against the run. And we didn't give up any big ones [through the air]. We just couldn't overcome all those turnovers."
Best foot forward
Randy Moss and Cris Carter were supposed to carry the day for Minnesota, but kicker Gary Anderson ended up assuming that role.
Anderson kicked six field goals, the most ever against Baltimore. He is 29-for-29 this year and has hit an NFL-record 34 straight field goals dating to 1997. That broke the record of 31 straight set by former Minnesota kicker Fuad Reveiz.
Anderson, a 17-year veteran, joined the Vikings this year after spending a year in San Francisco, two in Philadelphia and his first 13 in Pittsburgh.
"Gary has been tremendous. Gary is an everyday player, so what does during the games he does every day in practice," Minnesota coach Dennis Green said. "Even though he's a new player, the guys have so much respect for him. We are very excited to have him and very proud of his record."
Takes the blame
Holmes is quick to admit it when he makes a mistake.
He assumed the blame for his fumbles on the Ravens' first plays from scrimmage in the first and third quarters.
"I think most of all, I was putting myself in a bad position," Holmes said.
"Sometimes, you have to be aware of where you are at all times. One time, there was really nowhere to go. I think the one coming after halftime, I definitely put myself in a bad position.
"Sometimes, it's better to just go down. The worst thing you can do is punt it. I think that comes with experience. That particular drive was a key drive for us. That changed things around. It really did."
Corey Harris was benched as a starting safety for Ralph Staten last week, but he didn't get down on himself, running a kickoff back for a touchdown yesterday, although he also was guilty of one of the team's five fumbles.
"I'm a professional athlete and the key word in that is 'professional,' paid to do a job," Harris said. "It's just like any other job.
"You might not like the decisions that the people in charge make all the time, but you have to deal with it. It's part of the game. You can't always control what happens. You go out and do your part to help your team win."
Vikings offensive coordinator Brian Billick could be one of the hot coaching candidates this winter in what is expected to be a busy off-season.
While he admitted yesterday that he does think about those possibilities "in private moments," he quickly added, "There's nothing to do about it except keep winning."
The Vikings lead the league in scoring and are averaging 34.3 points this season. But Billick knows the rules.
"The NFL rules say you can't have contact before the season's over," he said. "So why should I think about it now?"
Carter scored his 100th career touchdown. He has 99 touchdown receptions, tying him for third all-time with Don Hutson. He trails only Steve Largent (100) and Jerry Rice (162). Carter also had a game-high 11 receptions, giving him 824 career catches. That's good for fourth all-time behind Andre Reed (880), Art Monk (940) and Jerry Rice (1,126). The light outage in the second half was blamed on computer problems. Defensive tackle Tony Siragusa left the game with a neck-muscle strain and did not return. Fellow tackle James Jones left with a strained MCL in his left knee, but was able to return. And head linesman Terry Gierke was carted off the field after a sideline collision with Minnesota cornerback Corey Fuller; Gierke suffered a left-knee injury.
Some of the key statistics that doomed the Ravens to their ninth loss of the season:
Statistic .......... Vikings .... Ravens
First downs ............ 26 ....... 16
Offensive plays ........ 91 ....... 42
Total yards ........... 420 ...... 267
3rd-down conv. ....... 13-22 ..... 2-6
Turnovers ................ 1 ....... 6
Pts. off turnovers ...... 26 ....... 7
Time of possession .. 40: 34 .. 19: 26
Field goals-attempts ... 6-6 ..... 0-0
Pub Date: 12/14/98