McAlister, Starks lend helping hand at corners

Pickoff, forced fumble set stage for victory

January 08, 2002|By Kevin Van Valkenburg | Kevin Van Valkenburg,SUN STAFF

Occasionally picked on and often maligned during much of the regular season, Ravens cornerbacks Duane Starks and Chris McAlister have weathered their share of storms this year.

But two big plays in the first half by the pair during the Ravens' 19-3 win over the Minnesota Vikings last night proved to be a major reason the Ravens will be making plans for the Miami Dolphins this week instead of making tee times.

Starks, who was criticized after being victimized twice in losses to Cleveland during the season, helped give the Ravens their first lead of the game, forcing a fumble with a nice hit on Vikings receiver Cris Carter three minutes into the second quarter.

"I basically got a good swipe at the ball and it came out," Starks said. "We definitely felt like we had to go out and play a great game against two good receivers. I think we did that. We're back in the playoffs and that's what matters."

Baltimore safety Rod Woodson recovered Carter's fumble at the Vikings' 45-yard line, and the Ravens' offense drove to the 2-yard line on 11 plays, taking 6-3 lead on a 20-yard Matt Stover field goal.

"Turnovers are always huge," McAlister said. "As a defense, we really came to play today. We felt like we needed to make something happen early."

It was McAlister, in fact, who made what was perhaps the biggest play of the game and certainly his biggest of the season near the end of the first half. Baltimore had just turned the ball over on a botched punt thanks to a bad snap by Dale Hellestrae, and Minnesota had the ball at the Ravens' 10-yard line with 1:10 remaining looking to take the lead with a touchdown.

But on the very first play, Vikings quarterback Spergon Wynn tried to throw a jump ball to receiver Randy Moss in the end zone, but badly underthrew it. McAlister, locked in man coverage, screened off Moss easily to make a one-handed interception. The offense responded by driving the ball 60 yards in six plays, going up 9-3 on another field goal by Stover.

"I was looking for them to throw the fade route [to Moss] in the back of the end zone," McAlister said. "I had position on Randy the entire time. I just had a feeling it was coming to him. With the position I had, no matter where he threw it, it was mine."

The interception was McAlister's first of the season, and it helped the Ravens seal a third straight game in which the defense did not give up a touchdown through the air.

McAlister, who intercepted Jets quarterback Vinny Testaverde in last year's regular-season finale, had plenty of reason to suspect Moss might be Wynn's primary target, considering Moss' Monday night football history.

In seven Monday night games before last night, Moss had caught 39 passes for 863 yards and 10 touchdowns. And though Moss did throw a 29-yard pass to Carter in the first quarter, which led the Vikings to their only points of the night on a 26-yard Gary Anderson field goal, Starks and McAlister held him to an otherwise quiet night. Moss finished with only two catches, and his 9 yards were his lowest total of the season.

"Obviously, I'm not going to get too carried away because they had their third-string quarterback in there, but it still feels good to play well," McAlister said. "It builds our confidence going into the postseason."

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