History 1 stop away for defense

Ravens' last stand would cement place with all-time greats

Super Bowl Xxxv

Ravens vs. Giants

January 17, 2001|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,SUN STAFF

History beckons, and how the Ravens' defense responds likely will determine the outcome of Super Bowl XXXV in 11 days.

If it delivers another stifling performance, laced with turnovers and intimidation, the Ravens should be world champs.

If it delivers a masterpiece against the New York Giants, it would be the closing argument in a season-long debate.

Do the Ravens have to win in Tampa, Fla., on Jan. 28 to be recognized as one of the greatest defenses in NFL history?

"It would be a lot easier," said defensive end Rob Burnett.

"I think we've done enough to be considered in that class. But if we are able to win the Super Bowl, it'll make it a lot easier choice for people to give us the credit I think we deserve.

"Because [then] we did do everything. There's nothing else that anybody can do. There's no area that we haven't touched."

The Ravens rang up four shutouts in the regular season, second most in history. They allowed the fewest points in a 16-game schedule. They allowed the fewest rushing yards ever over 16 games.

But if they really want to be convincing in their bid to join the greats, they should follow the lead of the 1985 world champion Chicago Bears, who had easily the best defense of the past two decades.

In a 46-10 thrashing of the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XX, the Bears allowed just 7 net rushing yards and recorded seven sacks. The rushing total is a Super Bowl record.

Could the Ravens match that domination?

"I think potentially, we're explosive enough on defense to pull off something like that," Burnett said. "It's not likely, and I'm not predicting anything. But I'm pretty sure - I know - that if things work in our direction, and we come out firing on all cylinders, come out and everyone's ready to go ... we can do that.

"It's not likely, but it's possible."

In the hyperbole after the Ravens' 16-3 upset of the Oakland Raiders in the AFC championship game, defensive tackle Tony Siragusa took it one step beyond when he addressed the team's underdog role.

"I want to thank all the people who didn't pick us [to win]," Siragusa said. "Now they'll jump on the bandwagon and say we're the greatest defense ever.

"They don't have to tell us. We knew that from the beginning."

Asked his perspective on the Ravens' place in defensive history, coach Brian Billick answered like a proud father.

"I use the analogy like a parent: Don't expect me not to say my daughters aren't the most beautiful girls in the world. Just don't expect that," he said.

"Don't expect me to not say this isn't the best defense ever. I didn't play or coach in the '70s. I didn't play or coach against the great Bears teams in the '80s. I've been in this capacity roughly for 10 years.

"It's the best defense I've seen in 10 years. I guess that's all I'm qualified to talk about."

Then, taking a jab at the assembled media, Billick added this zinger:

"Now, I'm going to pretend I'm a journalist, and I'm going to talk about the previous years that I wasn't a part of. Sure, they're the best ever."

More perspective: In their 1985 Super Bowl season, the Bears threw two shutouts in the playoffs (21-0 over the Giants, 24-0 over the Los Angeles Rams), before waxing the Patriots. That means they allowed 10 points in three games.

So far, the wild-card Ravens have allowed 16 points (5.3 a game) and just one touchdown.

Remarkably, the Ravens' defensive play has improved in the postseason. They have allowed nearly 20 fewer total yards per game than in the regular season, and have trimmed 23 from their net passing figure.

Turnovers continue at a high rate. They have seven in three playoff games (2.3 a game), compared with 49 in 16 regular-season games (3.1).

"That's pride, that's guys being determined and wanting to win collectively," Burnett said. "I think we feed on challenges. I think the bigger the challenge, the more apt we are to show up, and show up in a big way."

When they show up in Tampa, it will be in pursuit of history. Defensively, they are playing on a level that only a few teams ever have.

"That's why it's important for us to win this one," Burnett said, "so we can have our rightful place without anyone questioning."

Game data

Ravens (15-4)

vs. N.Y. Giants (14-4)

When: Jan. 28, 6:18 p.m.

Where: Raymond James Stadium, Tampa, Fla.

TV/Radio: Chs. 13, 9/WJFK (1300 AM), WLIF (101.9 FM)

Line: Ravens by 3

Fast fact: The Ravens allowed an average of 5.3 points in three playoff games. The Giants allowed an average of 5.0 in two.

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