Defense stands up to be counted

September 14, 1998|By John Eisenberg

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Midway through the third quarter yesterday at the Meadowlands, the Jets' offense drove to a fourth-and-one at the Ravens' 3-yard-line. The Jets' fans cheered for them to go for the touchdown. That's what fans do.

Across the line of scrimmage, the Ravens' defense also was cheering for the Jets to go for it.

As the Jets contemplated what to do, Ravens defensive ends Rob Burnett and Michael McCrary motioned to the Jets' huddle and shouted a challenge.

"We were saying, 'Come on, go for it, let's get it on!' " Burnett said.

The Jets backed down, sent their kicker onto the field and settled for three points.

They never scored again in the Ravens' 24-10 victory.

The taunting attitude symbolized a fundamental change in the Ravens' defense this season.

For two years, it was consistent only in its inability to make the big plays that win games. Now the opposite is true, if yesterday is any indication. The defense delivered a slew of big plays.

There was a colossal goal-line stand late in the first half. There were two interceptions by Rod Woodson, one of which he returned for a touchdown. There was a rally-squelching, end-zone interception by DeRon Jenkins in the fourth quarter.

"We made the [big] plays all day," Ravens coach Ted Marchibroda said.


The defense has become a capable, confident unit that seems to expect the best in big situations, instead of expecting the worst. Taunting the Jets and daring them to gamble? Are we sure we're talking about the Ravens' defense?

Yes, believe it or not. It's a defense that has produced six turnovers and six sacks in two games.

A defense that has slowed the Steelers' Jerome Bettis and the Jets' Curtis Martin on successive Sundays.

A defense that delivered the decisive stroke of yesterday's game with that goal-line stand late in the first half. The Ravens have had few better moments.

With the score tied at 7, the Jets drove 88 yards to a first-and-goal at the Ravens' 3. Martin then carried off left guard for 2 yards, putting the ball at the 1. The Jets were about to take control. You'd seen it before.

"A lot of guys would just give up the yard and give up the points," McCrary said. "It's a great feeling to know we didn't."

On second down, Ravens linebacker Tyrus McCloud stopped Martin for no gain. Then middle linebacker Ray Lewis submarined Martin for no gain on third down.

After calling a timeout to weigh his options, Jets coach Bill Parcells went for the touchdown on fourth down.

"We were standing there during the timeout saying, 'If they go for this, they don't respect us,' " McCloud said. "It fired us up that they went for it."

Martin carried off left tackle and never came close to scoring. McCrary, Lewis and safety Corey Harris broke through the line and stopped him in the backfield.

"A goal-line stand like that is about 5 percent technique and 95 percent heart," McCloud said. "It's just a matter of who is tougher out there. And we were a lot tougher. We won all four downs."

McCrary said: "It's a heart thing. Who has the heart? Who wants it more? We did."

The Ravens' offense took the ball and drove 99 yards for touchdown, turning the game around and possibly turning the Ravens' season around, too.

"I hope so," Burnett said. "Seasons can turn on moments like that goal-line stand. It's huge for a defense to have something like that happen."

Just as huge were Woodson's two interceptions. The first set up a field goal that gave the Ravens a 17-7 lead. The second resulted in a 60-yard return for a touchdown and a 24-10 lead.

The Ravens knew Woodson was past his Hall of Fame prime when they signed him, but they also knew he was still fast and capable of big plays. He has given them exactly what they wanted. The Ravens returned only one interception for a touchdown in each of their first two seasons, and Woodson has almost delivered two in two weeks. He dropped one against the Steelers.

"I'm not sure we've had plays like that since I've been here," Marchibroda said.

Uh, no.

Nor has he had a defense like this. The run defense, with Tony Siragusa in the middle, is extremely sound. McCrary and healthy-at-last Burnett are active on the ends. The linebackers are young and fast. Lewis is a Pro Bowl player.

Yes, the secondary is vulnerable, especially with free safety Kim Herring out with a dislocated shoulder. But Woodson is a major presence, strong safety Stevon Moore is solid and Jenkins made his biggest play as a pro yesterday with his end-zone interception. And if Jenkins is more solid, so is the secondary.

"The defense is having fun out there, a lot of fun," Burnett said. "We're laughing and joking in the huddle. The chemistry is great. We have the players, the experience and the chemistry to make [big] plays now."

They do. Just ask the Jets.

Pub Date: 9/14/98

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