Ravens fly to ball, fly away with it

Opportunistic defense tips scales early, often

Ravens 44, 49ers 6

Nfl Week 13

December 01, 2003|By Jeff Zrebiec | Jeff Zrebiec,SUN STAFF

The Ravens' defense has a simple rule in practice: Any player caught not running toward the ball gets down on his hands and pounds out 50 push-ups.

Games like yesterday's 44-6 rout of the San Francisco 49ers show why the mandate is in place.

The Ravens intercepted 49ers quarterback Jeff Garcia four times - all off deflections - while cruising to victory at M&T Bank Stadium.

The Ravens said the four interceptions, which tied a team record and led to 24 points, weren't a matter of lucky bounces. Rather, they were a testament to the opportunistic defense the team likes to play.

"We have a real swarming defense and we know if you see one [tipped ball], you better be ready because there are 10 more [players] coming," said inside linebacker Ed Hartwell, whose first career interception - on the first drive of the game - came after 49ers receiver Terrell Owens tipped a pass from Garcia.

"It's just the defense we play," Hartwell added. "If you pop the ball in the air, nine times out of 10, we're going to get an interception because we all run to the ball."

The Ravens' defense was relentless all game, forcing Garcia into a 14-for-29, 112-yard performance with a total team effort.

The defensive line applied pressure and put hands into Garcia's passing lanes, the linebackers kept the fleet quarterback in the pocket and the secondary broke up numerous passes.

Owens, who entered the game with 61 receptions for 840 yards, was thwarted by cornerback Chris McAlister, finishing with three catches for 23 yards.

"Every time you throw a challenge at [McAlister] - you're not Pro Bowl until you do this, until you shut down Torry Holt, until you shut down Terrell Owens - he's stepped up to every task we've thrown at him," Ravens coach Brian Billick said.

Gary Baxter, who intercepted Garcia in the fourth quarter, helped shut out Tai Streets, who entered with 35 receptions.

The 49ers' leading receiver was Fred Beasley (three catches for 42 yards), and he's a fullback.

"It's about imposing your will on them," said McAlister, who talked down his matchup with Owens. "Eventually our opponent will give in. ... Guys were out there doing their assignments, and we played hard."

And the Ravens, who emphasized all week the importance of getting physical with the San Francisco receivers, were certainly opportunistic.

Hartwell's interception off Owens' tip set a tone, which fellow linebacker Ray Lewis continued with his interception and 29-yard touchdown return 32 seconds before halftime, giving the Ravens a 24-6 lead.

Lewis caught a ball in stride after it hit receiver Cedrick Wilson.

"I played that route early with Terrell Owens a couple of times and their guy saw me coming and the ball bounced off his chest and I was in the right position," Lewis said.

After Baxter intercepted a pass from Garcia that ricocheted off the helmet of Terrell Suggs, free safety Will Demps got into the act. He moved in and caught a pass that safety Chad Williams had deflected up high.

"If I stopped hustling and didn't run to the ball, I would have never gotten to that one," Demps said.

A dominant performance was important for the Ravens' defense, which was still smarting from giving up 41 points to the Seahawks last week.

"Everybody was on our secondary last week about what they didn't do, but they stepped up to the challenge today," said outside linebacker Adalius Thomas. "It just goes to show you what happens when you run to the ball. All we wanted to do today was fly around and hit hard. When you do that, good things happen."

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