Ravens v. Raiders 11/8/98
If you look at the Ravens Media Guide, you get the impression the franchise didn’t start until 2000. Many of the records and streaks in the weekly press packets have the tag “since 2000” included.
Fans who’ve been season ticket holders or glued to their TVs from the beginning can still evoke positive memories from the 4 years before the franchise emerged, but many of those memories have eroded with time, the relative success of the last 17 seasons, and advances in technology such as Game Pass which have made it easy to enjoy the Mile High Miracle again, but much more difficult to enjoy the standard definition broadcasts of the late 1990s.
I’m working backwards through the early years of the Ravens to complete my databases, but I wanted to take a little extra time to savor this game from 1998.
The Ravens had lost 4 straight to finish a difficult first-half schedule with a 2-6 record. The previous week they had imploded, allowing 6 first-half touchdowns to Jacksonville on the way to a 45-19 loss. Meanwhile, the Raiders came to Baltimore 6-2, riding a 5-game winning streak.
Much like the 2003 Seattle game, there were many secondary storylines:
• Each team lost their starting QB to a first-half injury. Jeff George left with a groin injury and Jim Harbaugh missed the end of the first half with a bruised rear end, but returned in the 3rd quarter.
• Raiders center Barrett Robbins was ejected for kicking a player, something that can’t be seen on the broadcast video. And yes, that’s the same Barrett Robbins who missed SB XXXVII after reportedly failing to take his medication the day before the game and disappearing from the Raiders team activities.
• The Raiders committed 6 false start penalties and roughed Harbaugh twice among 14 total infractions for 98 yards. That led to numerous shots of John Gruden’s perpetual scowl.
• Ray Lewis had a big game with 3 PDs and a sack to go with 11 tackles.
• Despite the 5 sacks, Raiders quarterbacks had ample time and space on 21 of 34 drop backs (62%), which is not something I’ve seen often for a team that scores just 10 points.
On almost any other Sunday, McCrary’s performance would have been the biggest story, but…
Top draft pick (#9 overall) Duane Starks finally got his first NFL start, replacing DeRon Jenkins after 3 interceptions in dime and quarter packages in the first 8 games. The Ravens would repeat the mistake in 1999 when Jenkins kept #10 overall pick Chris McAlister out of the starting lineup for several games.
Starks played both LCB and RCB during the game, but always on the outside. Rod Woodson, in his only year at CB for the Ravens, moved to the slot when the Ravens had 3 corners on the field, much as Lardarius Webb has done in recent years.
Starks had the challenge of Olympic 4 X 100-relay gold medalist James Jett, who averaged 19.6 yards per catch for the season. While Duane was necessarily tentative versus his opponent, it quickly became apparent Starks had sub-optimal footwear as he slipped on most of Jett’s receptions as well as in coverage of Tim Brown.
Donald Hollas, the journeyman replacement for Jeff George, had not seen NFL game action since 1994 prior to the 1998 season. He would go on to amass 13 touchdown passes on 375 career attempts to go with 21 interceptions and 19 fumbles. You get the picture…this wasn’t Steve Young replacing Joe Montana.
Hollas was at the center of a 2nd-quarter controversy when:
1. He ran a QB sneak from the 1-yard line,
2. Appeared in replays to cross the plane by half the length of the football,
3. Had the ball dislodged for a fumble which the Raiders recovered,
4. Michael McCrary’s flagrant offsides violation escaped enforcement,
5. The Raiders were forced to settle for a FG
The bulk of Hollas’ throws went to Duane’s side of the field and he could fairly be described as receiving a trip to the woodshed. Not the ritual caning he got at the hands of Mark Brunell/Jimmy Smith in 2000 (291 receiving yards), but the game left a mark.
However, on the final drive, Starks turned his game around.
The Raiders took over at their own 20 with 1:45 remaining, trailing 13-10. From there:
• (Q4, 1:45) Hollas threw to Brown for a gain of 13, but Starks made a quick, inbound tackle that burned 20 seconds off the clock.
• (Q4, 1:25) Starks maintained coverage of Jett as McCrary registered his 4th sack to leave the Raiders 3rd and 13.
• (Q4, 0:48) Jett beat Jenkins for a 14-yard first-down completion to the Raiders’ 44. But Jenkins made the tackle inbounds.
• (Q4, 0:24) Starks again kept an 11-yard completion to Brown by the right sideline in front of him and made the tackle in bounds at the Ravens 45.
• (Q4, 0:09) Hollas managed to spike the football and Keith Washington was offsides while leaving the field. The ball was moved to the Ravens 40.
• (Q4, 0:08) Hollas threw a 15-yard out intended for Tim Brown by the left sideline, but dime back Ralph Staten leapt high to tip it away and prevent the Raiders from a manageable FG attempt.
On the final play (Q4, 0:03) Gruden unleashed a calculated ruse that befuddled the Ravens:
• The Raiders initially sent kicker Greg Davis out, presumably for a game-tying, 58-yard FG attempt.
• Gruden then pulled Davis and his holder from 13 players on the field with 6 seconds left on the play clock.
• The Ravens were disorganized and did not get their desired defensive unit on the field. Under today’s rules, the action might have been stopped to allow defensive replacements to enter in response to offensive personnel changes.
• The Ravens were powerless to stop the clock and reset, because Jim Harbaugh had burned the Ravens’ last timeout immediately following a Raiders timeout (Q4, 2:18).
• Hollas uncorked a bomb for the right side of the end zone, which Starks collected for the game-sealing interception as time expired.
• Players from both teams moved to the middle of the field, but stopped when they noticed the officials were huddled in the end zone.
• Color man Steve Tasker suggested a defensive foul in the end zone might be in discussion, although there was no flag on the field.
• Following the flight of the pass to the near right pylon, it’s a simple matter to count the Ravens had not 11, but 13(!) men on the field for the final play. In almost 19 seasons of scoring defensive personnel each play, that’s the only time the Ravens ever got away with 13 on the field, although they did get away with 12 on 1 other occasion.
• A penalty for too many men would have allowed the Raiders to try for the tie with a 53-yard FG attempt.
• After a meeting that lasted just over 1 minute, Referee Bob McElwee emerged and pronounced “the game is over.” No further explanation was offered.
The NFL has since been working backwards each offseason to modernize the Gamebook information on NFL GSIS for past seasons. The Ravens/Raiders game is one of the most recently completed games. Snap count information has been posted for all players in the game during the last month. I was curious to check the defensive snap counts to see how they treated the final snap. The Ravens had 62 defensive plays, but 784 aggregate snaps for all players. That works out to 11 per play with 2 left over, perfectly accounting for the final 13-defender play. To whoever is doing that work…respect.
It took Duane Starks almost 2 full seasons to cement his starting role, but he went on to make a significant contribution to the 2000 championship including 9 interceptions in 20 games capped by a pick-6 in Super Bowl XXXV. He was a victim of the cap purge of 2002 and was allowed to walk after 4 seasons, during which time he had 24 INTs, 6 forced fumbles, and 2 fumble recoveries. Only Rod Woodson (20 INTs, 3 FFs and 6 FRs in 1998-01) and Ed Reed (31 INTs, 5 FFs, and 8 FR from 2007-10) posted comparable or better turnover totals in a 4-year period for the Ravens. While undersized at 5’9”, 175 lbs., his ball skills were a terrific fit for Marvin Lewis’ confusing coverage and pass rush schemes.