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'We're the greatest of all-time'

The Ravens say their defense is unmatched in NFL history. There are stats to back the claim.

By JOHN ROMANO

© St. Petersburg Times, published January 29, 2001


TAMPA -- So many non-believers, so little time to crush them.

Still not convinced the Baltimore Ravens own one of history's greatest defenses? Just ask Giants receiver Ike Hilliard -- he should be coming to his senses any moment now. Or give Oakland quarterback Rich Gannon a call -- he can lift the phone with his right arm, the one that does not have a dislocated shoulder. And Tennessee quarterback Steve McNair should emerge from hiding well before next season's training camp.

"It was over," said MVP linebacker Ray Lewis, "when we came out of the tunnel."

Just look at it this way:

The Ravens allowed fewer points during a 16-game regular season than any team in history. And then they got better in the playoffs.

"Our defense, as a whole, is the greatest thing ever to exist," cornerback Chris McAlister said.

Now, some may consider that an overstatement, what with Nobel prize winners, war heroes and boy bands making such important contributions through history.

But you could probably find a fair number of people in Baltimore to agree with McAlister.

In four post-season games -- facing supposedly the best the NFL has to offer -- the Ravens gave up one offensive touchdown. Which is one touchdown less than the Ravens defense scored by itself.

After holding opponents to 10.3 points per game in the regular season, the Ravens held four playoff teams to 5.7 points per game.

"They've proven that they have the best defense in the league and they've proven that they belong with the all-time greats," said Giants tackle Lomas Brown. "They finished the deal today."

The Ravens are obviously the most talented defense right now. And few would argue that they are the best of the past 15 years.

The real debate is whether they are the greatest of all-time.

"You can name Butkus or any of your other great names and I'll come back with Ray Lewis and Rod Woodson. I'm naming legends too," said linebacker Peter Boulware. "The numbers back us up. We did it on the biggest stage. To be great you have to win a championship. We put up the numbers, we won the championship, what more could we do?

"We're the greatest of all-time, I would say."

It is a bold claim to make, but the Ravens have some bold evidence on their side. No defense has ever limited running games as well as Baltimore did this season. Few teams have been as adept at creating turnovers. And when it came to making a statement on the grandest stage, the Ravens pulled a filibuster.

There has never been a shutout in Super Bowl history, although three defenses have held the opposing offense scoreless (with the special teams or opposing defense accounting for a touchdown).

Those three defenses?

The 1972 No Name Defense from Miami.

The 1974 Steel Curtain Defense from Pittsburgh.

And the 2000 Ravens.

"We are the best defense to ever play this game, straight out," said Ravens defensive tackle Tony Siragusa. "People are going to challenge that. People are going to say, "No, this team or that team.' But you're not going to convince me or any of the other guys in that locker room of anything different. We are the best of all time."

It certainly looked that way for much of the evening. The Giants tried everything they could with virtually no success, and this is what they achieved:

On their first 22 plays from scrimmage, the Giants gained a total of 28 yards.

"We set out to do three things and it's very, very simple. Win the tackling battle, take the football away and stop them on third down. We do that each and every time," defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis said. "We keep the philosophy simple and the guys know what they're doing out there."

Giants offensive coordinator Sean Payton said no matter how many statistics you read, no matter how much film of the Ravens you watch, it is impossible to simulate the quickness and power of that defense until you experience it.

Siragusa said the Ravens have talked often about their place in history, but said their greater concern was their reputation within their own huddle.

"In order to play on our defense, we expect you to do something. We expect you to hold up your end of the bargain. We hold you accountable," Siragusa said. "If you make a mistake, the worst thing is having to come back to our huddle and have everybody look at you. They won't say anything, but they'll look at you and you know what they're thinking: You owe us one now.

"And I think that's why we're so good."

- Staff writer Pete Young contributed to this report.

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