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Baltimore's fate: all-time to all done?

By DARRELL FRY, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published January 27, 2002

Word out of Baltimore is the defense may be on the verge of a makeover.

Word out of Baltimore is the defense may be on the verge of a makeover.

Wasn't it just last season everyone was saying the Ravens had arguably the greatest defense of all-time?

The problem is, it slumped a bit this season, contributing to the team's AFC divisional playoff loss to the Steelers.

Now the Ravens reportedly are $20.5-million over the salary cap with 23 players unsigned for next season.

The bulk of the cuts apparently will come on defense, where coordinator Marvin Lewis may leave for a head-coaching job, and guys such as end Michael McCrary ($8.6-million), tackle Sam Adams ($8.5-million) and end Rob Burnett ($5.2-million) are being overpaid in comparison to their productivity.

Some may have to go.

Linebacker Ray Lewis is safe. So is tight end Shannon Sharpe and quarterback Elvis Grbac, even though he had a subpar season. Almost everyone else is fair game.

"We will regroup, plain and simple," coach Brian Billick said. "We extended ourselves with a Super Bowl team thinking we could make another run. We got close, but not close enough.

"We are in a situation where clearly we are going to have to regroup a little as everyone does in one form or another. Clearly, there are going to be some changes."

TRIVIA QUESTION: The Eagles are playing in their first NFC Championship Game since the 1980 season. Name the two teams that have gone longer without getting that far.

SEE YA LATER: Bills quarterback Rob Johnson, kept in Buffalo instead of Doug Flutie before this season, made an ominous prediction before learning he was on the team's expansion list.

"(If I'm on the list) then I'm not coming back," he said. "I don't think you could bring a quarterback back after you've put him out on the expansion draft. It's saying, "Oh, we really didn't want him.' "

GIVE HIM HIS PROPS, PLEASE: Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb has heard more than his share of criticism, mostly involving his decisionmaking and his accuracy. But he is seemingly coming of age in the playoffs and at least one Eagles fan thinks it's time folks get off McNabb's back.

"I hear all the things about his accuracy, his inability to do this and do that as a quarterback," McNabb's father, Samuel, said.

"You figure at some point in time, somebody's going to finally say, "Hey, this kid can play.' "

Mr. McNabb, your kid can play.

THANKS, PAL: The Broncos' Jason Elam might have been as excited as Martin Gramatica about the Bucs kicker's new seven-year, $12-million deal.

Elam's contract expires this offseason and he likely will command the same money.

SAY WHAT?: What did Packers safety Darren Sharper take from last weekend's 45-17 thumping by the Rams? You wouldn't believe it if we told you.

"I think we showed we're not that far from them," Sharper said, presumably with a straight face.

DOING WHAT WORKS: Don't think that just because the Bucs offense staggered for coach Tony Dungy that the Colts offense will not be as explosive now that Dungy has taken over in Indianapolis.

Dungy may be conservative, but he's not stupid.

"You try to maximize your team and play to the strengths. In Tampa, we had a lot of very good defensive players and two very good running backs, so we played to those strengths," Dungy said.

"Here, obviously, when you've got Peyton Manning and Marvin Harrison and Marcus Pollard and Ken Dilger, you play to the strengths that you have ... I think we'll play the same way they played last year, and hopefully even better."

IS THIS THE WEEK?: It's just a hunch, but the Eagles' streak of allowing 24 points or fewer in 24 consecutive games is probably going to end today. After the 45 points the Rams tattooed on the Packers, you have to figure they'll get at least 25 today.

TRIVIA ANSWER: Arizona and New Orleans.

-- Information from other news organizations was used in this report.

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