Game 3: Ugly win sits pretty

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — The Ravens' locker room was nearly empty, but quarterback Vinny Testaverde was still sitting half-dressed on the stool, waiting patiently as the last batch of reporters asked a few more questions. Testaverde had friends and family outside waiting from his hometown of Elmont, N.Y., but he was willing to savor the moments of the Ravens' 24-23, come-from-behind win over the New Giants yesterday before 69,768 at Giants Stadium.

The Ravens scored on their final two drives, including a 37-yard field goal by Matt Stover with 34 seconds left to pull out the win.

"I'm hanging around for this one," said Testaverde, who injured the thumb on his right throwing hand in the second quarter but remained in the game. "We didn't play very good football today, but any time you can win and not play your best football, it's a relief. I don't mind answering the questions. At least it's not about another tough loss."

The Ravens (2-1), in a rebuilding season, took another big step and made a bold statement yesterday, winning the first road game and stringing together two straight wins for the first time in the team's brief history.

It wasn't pretty. The Ravens were out-gained in total offense and had to rely on Giants kicker Brad Daluiso missing two field-goal tries and an extra-point attempt, but this was the kind of game the Ravens lost last season, when they blew eight second-half leads in their last 10 losses.

A year ago, Stover would have hooked the game-winner wide. A year ago, Testaverde would have fumbled or thrown an interception on the possible game-winning drive. A year ago, the Ravens would have found a way to lose a game like this.

But they didn't, and the Ravens say their fortunes are starting to turn.

"Guys are believing instead of having that sense of doubt," said veteran running back Earnest Byner. "At one time, guys would be down and doubting themselves when they were in this situation. This is a sign of growth and maturity for this team. I can't even find words to say how big this is."

Ravens coach Ted Marchibroda said: "This is a big, big win because we didn't play our best ball. Things looked bleak there for a while but the defense made some stops when they had to, and we moved the ball at the end. I'm not too concerned about winning on the road, but more importantly we're learning what it takes to win from week to week and we fought through adversity and injuries. Last year we didn't have the guys who could win at home or on the road."

One player who had trouble winning last season was Stover, who blew two contests by missing game-winning field-goal tries.

He got his chance yesterday following a Ravens drive that began at their 32 with 2: 59 left. On first down, the Ravens looked destined for another loss as Testaverde fumbled the snap from center Leo Goeas. Fortunately for the Ravens, Goeas inadvertently kicked the ball backward and into the hands of Testaverde, who turned the snafu into an 11-yard gain and a first down.

"You're kidding me," said Goeas when told about the fumble. "I didn't know that. I just thought Vinny made something up [on the scramble]."

But the rest of the drive was not luck.

Byner ran up the middle for 12 yards. Receiver Derrick Alexander took a Testaverde pass in the right flat for 7, and another pass to tight end Eric Green produced 11. Two more Byner runs and a 4-yard pass to him in the right flat put the Ravens at the Giants' 20.

Stover time.

"I was a little concerned about the wind blowing over the stadium," said Stover of the 9 mph wind. "Because of the wind conditions, there have been times here when I couldn't hit a 30-yard field goal. Also, as the team was moving down the field, I had to remind myself of a few little things, like slowing myself down because you're getting the adrenalin rush. But I know I hit it hard and straight through."

Stover, though, was not the only hero. Green and wide receiver Michael Jackson played key roles in the Ravens' touchdown drive in the fourth quarter, one that covered 83 yards in 10 plays and ended with an 11-yard touchdown pass from Testaverde to Jackson in the left corner of the end zone that cut the Ravens' deficit to 23-21 with 7: 08 left in the game.

In the drive, Testaverde found Green over the middle for a 34-yard reception to the New York 23 as Green beat safety Tito Wooten. Usually when a team plays two-deep coverage, Green is the secondary receiver. This time, Green blew by Wooten.

"I was kind of surprised he sat down on me. In that situation, I think I can beat any safety. I like to think I can outrun any corner, too," said Green with a smile.

Jackson lit up cornerback Jason Sehorn in the drive. He had a 9-yard reception early, then made a tough catch for a 7-yard gain off a slant-in pattern that Testaverde threw behind him down to the Giants' 16. Then on first-and-10 at the 11, Jackson ran a short slant on Sehorn, then turned out for a short fade pattern and eventually the touchdown.

"I read in the New York papers about all my comments about their cornerbacks not being able to cover us, and they can't. It was just a matter of time," said Jackson. "They weren't better than us. We were beating ourselves. That's a play Vinny and I have worked on, that if the slant doesn't work, we go to that route. And I'm going to say it again: they don't have any corners who can cover us."

That was about the only cocky talk coming out of the Ravens' locker room, because they were lucky to escape with a win.

The Giants out-gained the Ravens, 390 to 273. New York had nearly a 12-minute advantage in time of possession and did a great job of keeping the Ravens off balance both offensively and defensively.

First-year Giants coach Jim Fassel had his team blitz often up the middle, where the Ravens were starting a new center and guard. He went after the Ravens' cornerbacks but also pounded away at the team's strength, the defensive line, which allowed 121 yards rushing.

Ravens defensive linemen Rob Burnett and Michael McCrary had knee injuries, and cornerback Antonio Langham had a sprained ankle, but McCrary played most of the game and Burnett didn't have much of an impact in the first quarter.

There were no excuses.

"I told our team before the game that we were going to attack," said Fassel. "We were going to attack on offense, defense and in every phase of the game. We were taking some risks with some guys by doing that, but that was our attitude. We needed that and we wanted to display that."

Daluiso, though, had an extra-point try that was blocked by Burnett after the Giants' first touchdown, then was wide right on two 41-yard field-goal tries, with 5: 23 left in the first half and with 2: 59 left in the game.

The Giants did find a way to contain the Ravens' pass rush by having quarterback Dave Brown stay with a quick, three-step drop. Besides the missed field-goal tries, the Giants had touchdown drives of 49, 67 and 61 yards.

Marchibroda was disappointed with the way the Giants ran on his defense, and disturbed about the secondary, which allowed 269 passing yards. Changes in the secondary could be on the way.

"It looks like some changes have to be made. We're going to need some help back there," said Marchibroda. "Maybe I shouldn't say it that way, but that's probably the only way I can say it."

Marchibroda didn't want to put a damper on the victory. Even if the Ravens won ugly, they still won.

"We were scrappy out there today," said Goeas. "We finally got another monkey off our back. Make that two big monkeys."