Ravens bottle up Owens, shatter 49ers' plans on offense

Ravens 44, 49ers 6

Nfl Week 13

December 01, 2003|By MIKE PRESTON

SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS wide receiver Terrell Owens had three catches for 23 yards. When that happens, the 49ers can't get into any rhythm. When that happens, they can't control the ball and dominate time of possession. They usually lose.

San Francisco just didn't lose, 44-6, to the Ravens yesterday at M&T Bank Stadium, it was embarrassed. This was a complete mugging, in which the Ravens seemed to know the 49ers' plays better than the 49ers did. The Ravens' defense forced four turnovers that resulted in 24 points and took apart a San Francisco game plan that was doomed to fail.

It all came together on an afternoon in which the Ravens (7-5) wanted to rebound from last Sunday's ugly defensive performance against the Seattle Seahawks, and they gained momentum heading into the final quarter of the season. There couldn't be a better time for a team to be peaking.

"Anytime you can play like this - first game, last game, whatever- it's something special," said linebacker Adalius Thomas. "Last week, we gave up [41] points; this week, we're holding the 49ers to six. It's special to see this thing come together."

Maybe the Ravens giving up 426 yards, including 293 passing, to Seattle was the best thing that happened to this team. The Seahawks run the West Coast offense, which is predicated on timing patterns. Last week, the Ravens allowed Seattle receivers Darrell Jackson and Bobby Engram to get off the line of scrimmage without jamming them.

Yesterday, cornerbacks Gary Baxter and Chris McAlister were in the faces of receivers Owens, Cedrick Wilson and Brandon Lloyd. They could have charged McAlister and Baxter a piggyback tax. The Ravens' duo pushed and held them, disrupting San Francisco's timing routes. Poor Owens. He came into the game averaging nearly 5.5 catches, 76 yards and 24 expletives per game.

Yesterday, T.O. got KO'd by McAlister, who also has shut down receivers Torry Holt, Rod Smith, Jimmy Smith and Chris Chambers this season. He has done it without talking any smack. Has a new and humble McAlister been born?

As Owens goes, so goes the 49ers' offense. Both went virtually nowhere. San Francisco had 264 yards of total offense.

"If you do let them get started, you know Terrell Owens gets it going, and if he gets going, it can be scary," said Ravens inside linebacker Ray Lewis.

Baxter said: "I was surprised by them not throwing to T.O. They throw to him about 12 times a game, and let him be the playmaker that he is. He was very frustrated; you could tell by his demeanor. Every time we put our hands on him, he knew they weren't going to throw the ball to him. He would just start walking back to the huddle. That's what you call beating a person down."

The 49ers didn't help Owens any. Didn't they look at the Seahawks game film? If you're going to beat the Ravens, you've got to throw the ball downfield, either behind the drops of the linebackers or to the outside. San Francisco tried to throw short and in front of the Ravens. Dumb idea.

Lewis was laughing while he was eating up those little dump passes. Baxter knocked down three short ones. The Ravens are great at coming forward and swarming to the ball. This team doesn't miss a lot of tackles.

"We did a great job of knowing their tendencies and distances," Baxter said. "We knew everything they were going to run."

The Ravens got some lucky bounces on several of the interceptions, but they were in the area. Linebacker Ed Hartwell caught a carom off a pass intended for Owens early in the first quarter at the Ravens' 44, and three plays later running back Jamal Lewis was scoring on a 6-yard touchdown run.

With 41 seconds left in the half, 49ers quarterback Jeff Garcia threw behind Wilson on a short crossing route, and the tipped ball fell into the arms of Ray Lewis, who ran 29 yards for a touchdown.

A Baxter interception led to a 6-yard touchdown pass, and an interception by safety Will Demps led to a 41-yard field goal by Matt Stover, both scores in the fourth quarter.

But the Ravens didn't dominate only because of the interceptions. Rookie Jarret Johnson started his first game at left end and held his own. Once the Ravens got a big lead, they turned loose pass rushers like outside linebackers Peter Boulware and Terrell Suggs, who along with Thomas made life in the pocket very uncomfortable for a rusty Garcia, who was starting his first game after missing the past three with a high ankle sprain.

Just as important were some of the Ravens' adjustments. San Francisco had receivers open early in the game, but virtually none after the first quarter. The 49ers ran the ball well in the first quarter, until the Ravens started holding their gaps longer and not allowing the offensive linemen to work into the second level to get to Ray Lewis and Hartwell.

"With 24 points off turnovers, even I cannot screw that up," said Ravens coach Brian Billick, laughing.

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