11-11-02, 1:20 a.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
BALTIMORE _ Bengals strong safety JoJuan Armour saw Jeff Blake during Sunday's pre-game warmups and reminded him of that long ago training camp he pledged $100 to any one intercepting him.
"Today," Blake told him, "it's $500."
So Blake, now the Ravens quarterback, ended up breaking the Bengals' bank as well as their back in Baltimore's 38-27 victory. In one of those efficient games the Bengals wish he had more of during his six seasons in Cincinnati, Blake hit 67 percent of his passes (16-for-24) for 183 yards, one touchdown, no interceptions, and no fireworks in his first victory as the Ravens' starter. With a bow to running back Jamal Lewis' 135 yards.
It took Blake 43 starts to get a 100-yard rusher in Cincinnati. In his third start with the Ravens Sunday, he got a game from Lewis that he only got once with the Bengals, Corey Dillon's 192-yard day against the Browns in 1999 that produced 44 points. That's the only game of Blake's 66 Bengal starts that a back went for more than what Lewis did Sunday.
"If we had Corey now with Darnay (Scott) and Pick (Carl Pickens), nobody could stop us," Blake mused of his old wide receivers after the game. "And I say Darnay and Pick because those are my boys. I never played with (Peter) Warrick or Chad (Johnson)."
But there were enough familiar faces that Blake continued his pre-game conversations with several Bengals after the game when his family gathered in front of the club's buses to say hello to many old friends.
"I didn't have to do very much," Blake said. "When you run the ball like we did and get some plays on defense and special teams, you can pretty much stay within the program. I didn't have to try and carry the whole thing."
Which is what Blake felt he had to do in most of his starts in Cincinnati from 1994-99. But on Sunday, the Ravens gave Blake what he rarely had in Cincy with Lewis' 135 yards, tight end Todd Heap's four balls for 65 yards, a defensive touchdown, and a special teams touchdown. Remember when people used to wonder what Blake would do if he had a running game and a consistent, receiver-like tight end? It's fair to say he won maybe one or two games throwing for 183 yards as a Bengal.
"He wasn't spectacular, but he was solid," said Bengals cornerback Artrell Hawkins.
"When you give up the run in this league, that's what happens. The quarterback is able to pop plays in and out."
As the players warmed up, Hawkins noticed the big board at Ravens Stadium showed the old Bengal highlights of Blake going long to Scott. Hawkins had been reminding his fellow defensive backs to give Blake's receivers the out patterns and the come-back-routes.
"You know what Jeff wants to do," Hawkins said. "He wants to go deep. You can't let people get behind you. Give him the short stuff."
Maybe at age 26, Blake would have tried to force it long. But less than a month shy of 32, Blake took what they gave him. His longest chuck was on the first drive, a 33-yarder to Brandon Stokley after Stokley stopped in front of cornerback Jeff Burris. That set up Lewis' one-yard touchdown run. Blake overthrew his one deep try in the game, but it didn't matter.
"We were running the ball so well that we didn't have to go long," Blake said. "We kept them off the field with our running game and that was key because they moved the ball against us pretty well."
But just Blake's M.O seemed to open the middle of the field for Heap. Hawkins said the Ravens rarely went with three receivers, and, instead, used Heap as a third-receiver-type. That put Heap in one-on-one matchups with defensive backs mostly, but also left outside linebacker Canute Curtis at times. No one was able to cover him and it helped that they rolled Blake out of the pocket to hit Heap on a couple of third-down plays.
One Bengals' observer noted that the Ravens had Blake do what Steve McNair of the Titans does against Cincinnati. Go with play-action bootlegs and rollouts off the running game. Blake was rarely asked to bootleg in Cincinnati and when he got out of pocket, it was usually on a scramble. But he denied the Ravens have done a better job tailoring his strengths than the Bengals did.
"I wouldn't say that," Blake said. "I've only gone deep about once in each game and I'd have to say that's a real strength for me. Brian (Billick) has put in some things for me, quarterback draws and shuffle passes, but I don't think it's all that much different."
Still, the Ravens did a nice job keeping Blake mobile as the Bengals got just two sacks. The Bengals recall Blake started to force things after taking some hits, but they couldn't get many shots on him Sunday.
The Bengals' defense had nothing to do with 17 of the points, which came courtesy of returns on a punt, kick and interception. But Lewis' 6.4 yards per carry stuck in the craw of a unit that has now allowed three 100-yard games in the last four.
"They kept (Blake) on the move," Armour said. "He's still got it. He's one of the more mobile quarterbacks in the league. Our game plan was to stop No. 31 (Lewis) and No.86 (Heap). We didn't do either. We take pride in stopping the run. We just didn't get it done."
Although Blake believes he lost the Bengals' job unfairly to Boomer Esiason after a 3-8 start in 1997, it was a cordial reunion before the game on the field.
When Blake told him his father was at the game, Bengals President Mike Brown lightly punched him on the shoulder and asked with a laugh, "Who is he rooting for?" Quarterbacks coach Ken Anderson kidded about his gray hair before wishing him good luck, and after hugging him, Dillon ran away saying, "Please, no long ones Blake. No long ones."
After the game, wife Lewanna re-introduced their three children to people whom remembered them as babies. On Saturday night, Eric Ball, the Bengals director of player relations, went to the oldest's football game in which 13-year-old Emory displayed the old man's long ball.
"I don't wish any of these guys bad things," Jeff Blake said. "I want them to succeed."
Emory Blake, Jeff's father, didn't think there was any bitterness in his son's effort Sunday.
"It wasn't about revenge for him," Emory Blake said. "He wanted to play well against the team that he started with and had done some positive things. For him, it's all about getting an opportunity. That's all he wants. I just think with the Bengals, he didn't think they were trying to give him a supporting cast. They had a nucleus, but it wasn't taken advantage of."
On Sunday, at least, Jeff Blake had plenty of support.
"He did enough to win," Hawkins said.