Ravens trip over themselves

Monday, November 16, 1998

SAN DIEGO - The San Diego Chargers finally ran into someone more inept than themselves.

On an afternoon of futile football between 3-6 teams, the Chargers finally went home Sunday with a 14-13 win over the Baltimore Ravens, which was marred by the loss of running back Natrone Means with a broken left foot.

"We didn't play pretty, but we took advantage of the breaks we got and you have to give us credit," said Craig Whelihan, who at least erased the zero from his won-loss record, improving to 1-7 as starting quarterback. He was elevated when troubled rookie Ryan Leaf was benched Monday.

Whelihan threw a 47-yard touchdown pass to Charlie Jones in the second quarter, and Terrell Fletcher, filling in for Means, scored the game-winner on a 3-yard run with 14:47 to play.

Other than that, there were few pretty moments as San Diego snapped a two-game losing streak.

The afternoon seemed to be summed up on Jermaine Lewis' punt return with six minutes left. Chargers punter Darren Bennett, a former Australian Rules Football star, stuck out his right foot at the Baltimore 40, and Lewis tumbled to the ground, although he appeared to trip himself.

As Bennett was flagged for tripping, Lewis got up and continued his 90-yard run into the end zone, with one official signaling a touchdown. But the play came back because, as referee Gerry Austin explained, the tripping caused Lewis to be downed by contact.

"It was close, but he didn't touch me," Lewis said. "I just hopped over it and fell down. I'm upset about the call, but that's the way they saw it."

Bennett thought he got Lewis, but not necessarily with enough contact to knock him down.

"He juked me out of my socks," Bennett said. "I'm playing dumb Australian, lying on the ground at that point saying, 'Oh, no, we lost the game two weeks in a row.' Even when I saw the flag, I wasn't sure."

Bennett punted horribly the previous Sunday in a 27-10 loss at Denver.

Ravens coach Ted Marchibroda angrily argued with the officials, even gesturing up at the replays on the JumboTron, but to no avail. Instead of having the lead, the Ravens had to settle for Matt Stover's 42-yard field goal that pulled them to 14-13.

On the stat sheet, the Chargers committed 16 penalties for 146 yards, both season highs, and the Ravens had a season-high 14 flags for 106 yards. After their first five possessions, the Chargers had a net of minus-8 yards.

Whelihan was 15-of-42 passes for 172 yards, and Jim Harbaugh 12-of-33 for 150 yards and one interception.

Marchibroda was upset with all the mistakes.

"I think we have too many guys who want to play their own game and do things their own way," Marchibroda said. "They don't realize, again, the standpoint you have to play smart football to win in the NFL."

The game's decisive moment came early in the fourth quarter after the Chargers twice chose to take field goals by John Carney off the scoreboard and accept unsportsmanlike penalties against the Ravens. Fletcher then capped the drive with his 3-yard run. The penalties, on Jamie Sharper and Michael McCrary, were for using other players for illegal leverage.

"I just have to learn the rules," McCrary admitted.

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