Coach Ted Marchibroda stubbornly refused to acknowledge the obvious regarding his offensive backfield. He stuck with Jay Graham at tailback, even though Errict Rhett, acquired in a February trade for a third-round draft pick, outplayed Graham in training camp and the preseason. Four days before the season opener, Marchibroda gave Rhett the job, which did wonders for Graham's confidence.
Fans will remember the game as a dark comedy of errors that set the tone for a lost season. Where do we begin dissecting that 20-13 loss to Pittsburgh before a packed house at Camden Yards? The dropped touchdown pass by Jermaine Lewis? The dropped interception by Rod Woodson that would have gone for a touchdown? The bad work of special teams snapper Harper Le Bel? One of his errant snaps, which rolled through punter Kyle Richardson's legs, led to an easy touchdown that sealed Pittsburgh's victory.
On Oct. 11, the Ravens, with a bye week behind them, took a 2-2 record into a home game against Tennessee and laid a colossal egg. Their offense managed just two field goals, as the Oilers stuffed running back Priest Holmes and overwhelmed quarterback Eric Zeier with relentless blitzes up the middle. Those roll-out and sprint-out passes Marchibroda had promised never materialized. And Le Bel, whom Marchibroda had declared was a better long snapper than Brian Kinchen, was gone after another miserable effort.
The final nail
Marchibroda's fate was sealed on Nov. 1, when the 2-5 Ravens, trying to shake a three-game losing streak, took the home field against Jacksonville and committed five turnovers in the first half, giving the Jaguars a 42-13 halftime lead. Jacksonville coasted to a 45-19 victory that pretty much knocked the Ravens out of the playoff hunt. In the season's eighth game. After that embarrassment, the "sellout" crowds started dwindling in droves.
Quarterback Jim Harbaugh's finger and elbow problems basically ruined his season before it got started. Fullback Roosevelt Potts gets no such slack. From start to finish, Potts, whom the Ravens signed despite having the chance to get Buffalo's Sam Gash-- headed to the Pro Bowl -- was inconsistent at best. His blocking was spotty, he fumbled regularly, his running lacked power. He will not be back in Baltimore.
Free-agent busts II
Rhett and wide receiver Floyd Turner deserve special consideration, since they were barely allowed a chance to contribute. For some reason, Rhett was benched a week after producing 92 yards from scrimmage in the opener. And Marchibroda, impressed by Holmes, never found a way to get Rhett involved in the offense. Major blunder. Then there's the refusal to play Turner, a nine-year veteran, over the likes of rookie Patrick Johnson, seldom-used James Roe and journeyman Ryan Yarborough, who was cut last month. Yet, when Turner replaced an injured Lewis, he was the Ravens' best player for a two-game stretch in early December.
Off to his best start in years, Green suffered a freak injury against Tennessee on Oct. 11 and missed the next two games. Upon his return, Green was never the same receiver. He fumbled more times in a month than Ozzie Newsome did in most of his 13-year career. The Ravens were banking on Green having a Pro Bowl year in their ball-control offense. Green, still an effective blocker, rarely resembled the pass-catching threat he was five years ago.
Special teams problems
Whether it was penalties, breakdowns in coverage, bad snaps or missed Matt Stover field-goal attempts, the Ravens struggled badly in that unit throughout the early season. By midseason, the kicking and coverage games were back on solid ground. The up-and-down nature of the special teams was never more obvious than on Dec. 13 against Minnesota. In a wild first quarter, the Ravens returned two kickoffs for touchdowns and ++ gave one back to the Vikings.
He sulked. He pouted. He blamed the offensive system. What he failed to do was play well enough to find the end zone, which is why the Ravens gave him a $3 million bonus in 1997 and paid him $3.3 million in 1998. Two years after scoring a career-high 14 touchdowns in 1996, Jackson went scoreless for the first time in his eight-year career, securing his exit from Baltimore.
Pub Date: 12/29/98