Game 8: Ravens catch break, OT win

Even the game-winning play in overtime was bizarre and against the odds. How crazy?

The original play was scrubbed. The quarterback threw off his back foot. The receiver barely made it out of his cut, and the tandem had misfired on the same play several times earlier.

In a game no one seemingly wanted to win, the Ravens prevailed, 37-31, over the St. Louis Rams yesterday, as quarterback Vinny Testaverde threw a 22-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Michael Jackson in the left corner of the end zone with 10 seconds remaining in the 15-minute overtime.

The Ravens (3-5) were able to laugh because they escaped with a win against the team with the worst offense and defense in the league and broke a three-game skid.

"After the team prayer, there was a sense of relief," said Testaverde. "Guys were glad to get it over."

It was that kind of game. Dropped touchdown passes. Six fumbles. Very little defense (964 yards of total offense). Twenty-two penalties for 155 yards. The Ravens missed a 32-yard field-goal attempt as time expired in regulation, and the Rams (2-6) said thanks, but no thanks, by botching the snap on a potential 32-yard kick with 5: 43 left in overtime.

You get the picture. It was a shame somebody had to win.

"It's a game we felt we should have won going in, but you never know," said Ravens coach Ted Marchibroda. "I don't think I've ever seen a game where the teams had more opportunities to win and lose."

The Ravens won because Testaverde called off the play sent in from the sidelines into his helmet headset. With 20 seconds left in the overtime and the ball at the Rams' 22, Testaverde was instructed to run a quarterback sneak and then call a timeout to set up a game-winning field-goal attempt by Matt Stover.

Instead, Testaverde had Jackson run a flag pattern to the left corner of the end zone.

Jackson got a step on cornerback Jeremy Lincoln and Testaverde, under pressure and throwing off his back foot, still got enough on the ball for Jackson to pull in the pass for the winning points to the delight of the remaining fans in the crowd of 60,256.

"They were playing man-to-man press coverage," Jackson said. "I had the option to take the corner route. Vinny sat in there in heavy pressure and threw the ball out. That's a basic play for us."

Testaverde said: "I kind of overruled the play coming in. I don't know if it was my option, but I made it anyway. I thought we had enough time to take a shot at the end zone, and if Michael didn't catch it, I threw it high enough for it to be incomplete."

Marchibroda didn't mind being overruled.

"We told Vinny we wouldn't second-guess him," Marchibroda said. "He has that privilege and we know he is not going to abuse it."

The play touched off a wild celebration by the Ravens, who only minutes before stood in silence as Rams kicker Chip Lohmiller was poised for a 32-yard field-goal attempt with 5: 43 left in overtime.

But the snap went through the hands and bounced off the shoulder of backup Rams holder Jamie Martin and the Ravens recovered the fumble at their own 17.

"It wasn't perfect, but it's still one that's catchable. I should have caught it," said Martin, who was holding because Keith Lyle was injured. "It just slipped out of my hands."

Some of the Ravens blamed the fumble on divine intervention. Enough of them were praying, including Jackson and running back Bam Morris. Testaverde was putting on his chin strap. Offensive tackle Tony Jones was waxing prophetic.

"I told the boys to have faith," said Jones. "I told them we were going back out there because they were going to fumble the snap. They said, 'Man, you're crazy.' "

Yes, it was that kind of afternoon, one in which the most reliable active kicker in the NFL, the Ravens' Stover, missed an extra-point attempt and field-goal tries of 43 and 32 yards.

The 32-yarder came on the last play of regulation as Testaverde took the Ravens from the Rams' 41 to the 14 in two plays. Then Stover got the dreaded signs from the officials: No good. Wide left.

"From a performance standpoint, this was the worst day of my career. I took this team to the cleaners today," said Stover, who was 6-for-8 coming into the game, with both misses coming from beyond the 40.

But the Ravens had some other culprits. When Morris scored on a 10-yard run around right end with 6: 36 left to forge a 31-23 lead, the Ravens had the Rams right where they wanted them.

They had a rookie quarterback, Tony Banks, who had to drive a team 87 yards for the tying score.

Banks took the Ravens' defense apart with short passes, and then threw a short pass over the middle that wide receiver Isaac Bruce turned into a 55-yard gain down to the Ravens' 1. Rams fullback Harold Green then crashed up the middle for the touchdown and the two-point conversion to tie the game 31-31.

"This loss will not be easy," said Rams coach Rich Brooks. "They put a lot out there. They played hard. Not always efficient. It could have gone either way on a number of occasions, but I thought we were in great shape at 20-6."

The Rams had taken a 7-0 lead in the first quarter when Banks threw a 49-yard pass to Bruce, who had 11 receptions for 229 yards, down to the Ravens' 8. Then Banks hit Bruce for a touchdown on the next play with 54 seconds left in the quarter.

The Rams added 50-yard and 38-yard field goals in the second quarter, but Testaverde passed 27 yards to wide receiver Floyd Turner for a touchdown with 1: 19 left in the half to cut St. Louis' lead to 13-6.

When Rams cornerback Todd Lyght picked off Testaverde and returned the ball 25 yards for a touchdown with 10: 32 left in the third quarter, the Rams had a 20-6 lead and seemed on the way to victory.

But the Ravens went to a no-huddle offense and Testaverde got on a roll. He finished with 429 yards passing and three touchdowns, completing 31 of 51.

His 40-yard pass to running back Earnest Byner set up Morris' 3-yard touchdown run with 5: 19 remaining in the third quarter, and a 37-yard pass to Byner set up a 13-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Derrick Alexander with 13: 17 left in the game that gave the Ravens a 24-23 lead.

"If we had lost this game, we would have been in a real big hole. We're still trying to get out of the hole we're in," said Testaverde. "We've thrown in some dirt trying to get back to the surface."

Said Jones: "If we had lost this, it would have been an embarrassment because we know we're the better team. Teams like this you have to jump on early and let them know they can't win."