With a new quarterback named Trent Dilfer, the Baltimore Ravens (7-4) have suddenly emerged as one of the NFL's quality teams on the eve of the easy section of their schedule, which continues against Dallas (4-6) Sunday and then Cleveland (3-8).
All season, the Ravens have been the league's model
defensive power, blanking three opponents and playing 2-3 football through a five-game
stretch in which they failed to score so much as one touchdown.
Tennessee Titans (8-2), 24-23.
The catalyst was, improbably, Dilfer, who, through a stormy
seven-year NFL carrer, has inspired more abuse from more critics than perhaps any other
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That's 2 for Troubled Trent
During the first two months of the season, Raven Coach Brian
Billick, an offensive expert, apparently agreed that Dilfer's many querulous critics had a
In any case, he kept Tony Banks at quarterback in a
punchless offense that continuously disheartened Baltimore's defense--the league's
best--until, finally, successive defeats lowered the Ravens' won-lost record to
At that juncture, Billick brought Dilfer in to beat Cincinnati, 27-7, as the Ravens scored their only touchdowns in six weeks.
But when, seven days later, a Tennessee cornerback
intercepted Dilfer during a furious 17-17 fight in the fourth quarter--and returned the
ball 87 yards for what seemed to be the winning touchdown--you could hear the anti-Dilfer
fans shouting, from living rooms all over America, "Same old bum!"
They were wrong about that.
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The Raven-Titan game matched teams with names that were
unheard-of during all but 78 of the NFL's 81 years when, in large part, the old Chicago
Bears and the old Green Bay Packers made pro football what it is.
The game also matched two of this year's four best pro
clubs--placing St. Louis and Oakland in that company.
Indeed, if the Ravens are going to be respectable
offensively now with their new one-two punch--Dilfer and rookie running back Jamal
Lewis--they have defense enough to hold off any opponent.
Much the same can be said for the Titans and their one-two
weapons, quarterback Steve McNair and running back Eddie George.
It was McNair who won the first Raven-Titan game in October,
14-6, before Dilfer's accurate passing tilted the rematch Baltimore's way, creating first-
half leads of 14-0 and 17-7.
The Titans, on their home field, had fallen behind trying to
run the ball.
OATES ON FOOTBALL