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Baltimore defense discovering its form

By MARC TOPKIN and Times wires

© St. Petersburg Times
published January 13, 2002


MIAMI -- The smack might not be as loud and the numbers not as stunning, but Baltimore's defense still is worth raving about.

"We're doing the things we need to be doing," All-Pro linebacker Ray Lewis said. "We're playing the way we need to play."

The Ravens ranked second in the league in total defense, allowing 277.9 yards a game -- fourth against the run (88.2 yards) and eighth against the pass (189.7 yards). Lewis led the league with 162 tackles and Peter Boulware, who moved to defensive end to replace injured Michael McCrary, topped the AFC with 15 sacks.

"Each week, we show glimpses of playing great," safety Rod Woodson said. "Then we show glimpses of playing not so great. But I think the last couple of weeks we have played some good football on defense. That's what you want, to play your good football the last couple of weeks of the regular season and in the playoffs."

OFFICIALLY OUT: The Dolphins placed fullback Rob Konrad on injured reserve Saturday because of a rib-cage injury.

Konrad was injured against New England last month and inactive for the final two games of the season. In 12 games, Konrad ran five times for 22 yards and a touchdown. He also caught five passes for 52 yards and a score.

To take his spot on the roster, the Dolphins activated receiver Robert Baker from the practice squad.

HOMECOMING: Last season's Super Bowl in Tampa was something of a homecoming for Lewis, who grew up in Lakeland. Today's game will be too, since Lewis played at the University of Miami.

"It's always good going back to Florida," Lewis said. "I have some great memories college-wise. One thing about it is that in this time of year, you really can't treat it like a vacation. You can only treat it as a business trip. You say hi to your family and from there you just have to move on."

BIG TALKER: Miami defensive tackle Daryl Gardener is on injured reserve because of a back injury, but that hasn't slowed his mouth. Gardener is predicting big things for his teammates.

"Baltimore is very beatable, and the other teams are very beatable, so it's right there," Gardener said. "I wish I could be a part of this because I just don't see anybody in the Dolphins' way right now. If we win this game here we go to Pittsburgh or we go to New England. I would love to see those guys go to New England. If they go to New England, they might as well put us in the championship game because after one embarrassment I believe they're not going to embarrass this team twice."

FAMILIAR FACES: The Dolphins, who allowed 27 sacks despite losing three offensive line starters to injury, will be using two linemen cast off by the Ravens, Spencer Folau and ex-Buc Harry Swayne.

"It's definitely going to be weird going against your old team, but it's going to be fun," Folau said. "It should be an opportunity to show them that they shouldn't have gotten rid of me. It's going to be a chance for me to prove something to myself too."

Swayne, meanwhile, has a chance for some one-upmanship with Baltimore tight end Shannon Sharpe. Both have won 11 postseason games in a row, and Sunday's winner will hold the league record.

"That's a huge thing to accomplish," Swayne said. "I'm trying to end Shannon's streak.

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