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Defensive Ravens state their case 21-3

Baltimore's record-setting unit dominates high-powered Broncos.

By JOHN ROMANO

© St. Petersburg Times, published January 1, 2001


BALTIMORE -- The Super Bowl is less than four weeks away, and the Ravens have yet to run into an offense that can beat them.

That is, if you do not count the Ravens offense.

The most lopsided team not wearing pewter put on its usual display of ugly football Sunday afternoon, manhandling Denver in a dreary 21-3 victory in an AFC wild-card game.

Now, despite an offense the Buccaneers could disparage, Baltimore has a defense that might just carry it to Raymond James Stadium for Super Bowl XXXV on Jan. 28. Next up for the Ravens is a trip to Tennessee to play the Titans in a division playoff game Sunday.

"We knew we were supposed to play in Tampa," Broncos defensive tackle Trevor Pryce said. "I'll tell you what -- now they're going to be playing in Tampa."

It would be easy to dismiss a team that recently went five games without an offensive touchdown. It would be easy to say the Ravens skated by with a less-than-challenging regular-season schedule.

But the Broncos were a playoff-tested team that arrived in Baltimore with the highest-scoring offense in the conference.

And the Ravens embarrassed them.

"They couldn't run the ball, and we stopped them from passing," defensive tackle Tony Siragusa said. "What else could they do? They punted very well."

Actually, the Broncos punted poorly, too.

Baltimore is far from infallible. As good as the defense is, the offense is capable of single-handedly losing any game. The average score in Baltimore's four losses in the regular season was 13-5.

The key is making sure the offense does not undermine the defense. That was precisely the way Baltimore won Sunday.

Quarterback Trent Dilfer took care of the ball, avoiding a single turnover, and the offense had enough of a ground game to eat up time on the clock.

"If we don't turn the ball over, I like our chances," said Baltimore tight end Shannon Sharpe, who scored on a 58-yard pass from Dilfer that was deflected by running back Jamal Lewis and defender Terrell Buckley. Baltimore coach Brian Billick is a former offensive coordinator with a reputation as a hot-shot architect of the passing game. But he is not ashamed to direct the bulk of credit for his team's success to the defense.

The Ravens set an NFL record for the fewest points allowed (165) during a 16-game season, and they were just as effective in the franchise's playoff debut. Not only did the Broncos fail to score a touchdown, they did not get a whiff of the end zone for most of the day.

The Broncos had three plays or less on eight of their first 10 possessions.

"We showed the country the Baltimore Ravens are for real," said defensive end Michael McCrary, who had three sacks. "The Denver Broncos had the No. 1 or 2 offense. Today we showed the country what we're all about."

In a word, that would be nasty.

With their dual defensive tackles, Siragusa and Sam Adams, weighing in at 670 pounds between them, the Ravens have a tendency to clog the line of scrimmage. That allows McCrary and linebackers Peter Boulware and Ray Lewis to be the playmakers all over the field.

Denver running back Mike Anderson, who gained 1,500 yards this season, was held to 40 on 15 carries. And he fared better than backup quarterback Gus Frerotte. Starting in place of injured Brian Griese, Frerotte played so poorly that he was replaced by rookie Jarious Jackson in the fourth quarter. "They are very good, but we caused our own problems today," Frerotte said. "We had an (interception) early and a couple of fumbles at the quarterback/center exchange. We didn't get it done offensively. I apologize to my teammates. I didn't play the way I know I can play."

So, teams with high-wattage offenses -- Denver, St. Louis and Indianapolis -- are out of the playoffs after the first weekend, and defensive-oriented ballclubs -- Baltimore, New Orleans and Miami -- remain.

The Ravens can't say they are surprised, but they figure the football-watching public might have gotten a wake-up call.

"Any time you can light up the scoreboard like Denver, St. Louis and Indianapolis, you're going to get a lot of attention," Pro Bowl safety Rod Woodson said, "But you have to play defense to win in this league in January. A lot of people thought we were going to stumble, but we know what this defense is capable of doing."

The Ravens have done a pretty good job of compiling the evidence and presenting their case as the NFL's toughest outfit to score on.

So, for now, the defense rests.

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