Running back Priest Holmes knows enough about tough days. Take away his 400 yards in two meetings against Cincinnati, and Holmes has managed just 476 yards in 10 other starts this season.
Holmes had the toughest day of 1998 in Sunday's 24-3 loss to Chicago, gaining just 17 yards on 11 carries.
He needs 124 yards to reach 1,000 as a second-year player. And that could happen, considering that the Detroit Lions will bring the NFL's 25th-ranked run defense to Camden Yards in Sunday's season finale.
Then again, most of the stadium's attention will be focused on that other running back, the one wearing a Lions uniform. Fellow who goes by the name of Sanders.
Holmes was 15 when the Lions drafted Barry Sanders out of Oklahoma State in 1989. Since then, Sanders has set new standards for highlight film material, while taking steady aim at the league's all-time career rushing record, currently held by Walter Payton. That record could fall next year.
Sanders, who has 15,228 career yards and has managed 1,450 this year on 324 carries, has averaged more than 5 yards per carry in five different seasons. There hasn't been a more exciting runner in the 1990s.
"I think of all the great runs I've seen him make, and all of the preparation he goes through," Holmes said. "For me, the biggest opportunity will be to play on the same field with greatness. More than that, I like his character and the empowerment he brings to his team. They have a guy who can have a breakaway game at any time."
Trying to the end
Coming off an embarrassing loss, quarterback Jim Harbaugh is eager to help his team make amends with its fans.
To Harbaugh, the least the Ravens can do is treat the Baltimore faithful to a victory, and at the very least put forth an effort that makes up for the lackluster showing the team displayed at Soldier Field.
"It's a chance to show our fans that we're capable of playing well and playing hard down to the last game," Harbaugh said. "That means a lot to me, to be a guy who does that, and to go out with a decent type of feeling after this type of season."
Running backs coach Al Lavan said, "I think the guys who are healthy enough to play will come out and play hard this week. It's about professionalism, whether you're a coach in this game or a player or a front-office guy.
"If you've got to think about whether you're going to [play hard], in the long run, you're not going to do it anyway. This week will be less about X's and O's than about what's above the shoulders, which is usually the case."
Coach Ted Marchibroda called the first half of Sunday's game the worst he has seen during his three years with the Ravens.
The Ravens allowed 24 unanswered points and a slew of big plays -- mainly runs of 57 and 54 yards to James Allen, who is far from a household name.
"It was disappointing to see their back get those big runs," he said. "We broke down. The Bears did what they wanted. We didn't play Raven football."
Under Marchibroda, the Ravens are 15-31-1. They are also in danger of being swept for the second month of the 1998 season. The Ravens, who have lost three straight in December, did not win a game in October.
Sunday's game has been sold out, meaning the Ravens will complete the first season in their new stadium with eight full houses -- that is, based on tickets sold, not actual attendance. Defensive end Michael McCrary will throw a holiday party tonight for 250 Police Athletic League kids at the team's stadium. Among the players scheduled to appear are Pro Bowlers Jonathan Ogden, Jermaine Lewis and Bennie Thompson. Cornerback Rod Woodson did not accompany the team back from Chicago on Sunday. Woodson spent yesterday visiting his mother in Indianapolis. The Ravens are ranked in the league's top five in four special teams categories -- punt return average (fourth), punt return average allowed (fourth), kickoff return average (fourth), net punting average allowed (first).
Pub Date: 12/22/98