Ravens' secondary stifles a vocal duo

McAlister's hit on Ward symbolic of tables turned on Steelers' top receivers

Ravens 13, Steelers 10

Nfl Week 17

December 29, 2003|By Brent Jones | Brent Jones,SUN STAFF

Chris McAlister said he had been waiting his whole career to lay a lick on Pittsburgh Steelers receiver Hines Ward like the one he did in the fourth quarter of last night's 13-10 Ravens win.

With a running start, McAlister knocked Ward off his feet with a shoulder-high tackle, seemingly alleviating every bit of frustration he and the Ravens' secondary had faced against the Steelers' receivers the previous five games.

"It felt so good," McAlister said. "I've been waiting on that my whole career. I've been waiting to get a nice shot on him, clean and legal."

Ward immediately jumped up and started yelling toward the Ravens' sideline and apparently at the referee. McAlister didn't know what Ward was griping about.

"He ought to be happy he got up," McAlister said.

As the Steelers' receivers were having one of their worst showings in years against the Ravens, it must have been tempting for Ward to stay down.

Ward, who entered the game as the AFC leader in receptions, caught just two passes for 11 yards. His partner, Plaxico Burress, was even less of a factor, hauling in one pass for 13 yards in the first quarter.

The Ravens took satisfaction in silencing Ward and Burress.

"The bottom line is the secondary has been playing well lately no matter who we face," McAlister said. "Plaxico and Hines, it was a lot of talking on their part. But that's what they do best. They talk. We came to play today. We didn't have time to do a lot of talking."

Ward and Burress had much to talk about after the first game this season. The two combined for 207 yards on 15 catches, verbally and physically getting the better of the Ravens' defense.

But as the game unfolded last night, it was apparent that neither Ward nor Burress would be a factor. After McAlister's hit on Ward, which came with 12 minutes left in the fourth quarter, third receiver Antwaan Randle El seemingly became the go-to man for quarterback Tommy Maddox.

Randle El caught five passes, and Ward and Burress were shut out from that point on.

"They played, but they weren't going to score on offense," said Ravens nickel back Corey Fuller. "We figured it out, we were going to go at them. We weren't going to let Tommy Maddox dink and dunk.

"I just want to say this: All week long, we couldn't say nothing. Hines Ward said he'd rather see Cincinnati go to the playoffs. All of them can get together, become a free agent, go to Cincinnati and try to make the playoffs next year."

The key, according to Fuller, was challenging Ward to go up the field and sitting on the shallow routes.

"I can catch 100 balls running 5 yards in and out," Fuller said. "That man can't do damage going vertical."

As for Burress, he did more talking about his team's inability to run the football with the Ravens dropping their safeties deep.

"They seemed like they were one of the only teams running the Cover 2 [defensive scheme] on us, double coverage, and it was kind of embarrassing," Burress said. "You know when people just take you out of the football game, and you can't seem to get your hand on the ball. No disrespect to us, but the running game, it's just embarrassing when people play Cover 2 on you all day and win the football game."

Ravens coaches asked the players to avoid getting into a verbal sparring war before the game, but that did not extend to late last night when McAlister could finally crow a little.

"I hate the Steelers," McAlister said. "When I see them next year, it's going to be personal again. It's not going to be over until I stop playing. Other than that, it's still on."

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