Ravens shut out Falcons, distractions

Dominant defense sets tone after J. Lewis news, sparks 24-0 romp in preseason opener

August 13, 2004|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

The first hit of the year was dealt a couple hours before the Ravens' preseason opener, when Jamal Lewis' drug conspiracy trial was set by a federal court for Nov. 1 in Atlanta.

Judging by last night's 24-0 win over the Atlanta Falcons at M&T Bank Stadium, the Ravens brushed off the initial blow the way Lewis brushes off defenders on his powerful runs.

As word of mouth spread on the sideline about a trial that could come in the middle of a season of high expectations, the Ravens recorded their third-largest preseason margin of victory with a strong finish by quarterback Kyle Boller and an overwhelming defensive performance.

When asked how the team would handle the situation with the trial date set, linebacker and team leader Ray Lewis said in a sideline interview, "It's easy. You put it in God's hands and move on. [Jamal Lewis] has been handling it. He'll be OK and we'll be OK. You let no outside interference come in."

Made aware of the trial date before the game, Jamal Lewis did not resemble last year's NFL rushing champion, though he received little help.

With the Falcons controlling the line of scrimmage, Lewis had little running room and finished with 14 yards on six carries. Nearly all of his production came on a 12-yard burst.

"I was a little rusty," Lewis said. "I may have had the pads on [in training camp], but I haven't gotten too much contact. I was really in practice mode."

More than the driving rain, the announcement about Lewis dampened an improved effort by Boller (5-for-9 for 56 yards) and a thorough domination by the defense.

The Ravens rolled to a 14-0 halftime lead on 12-yard touchdown throw by Boller and a 49-yard interception return by reserve cornerback Fred Weary.

Overcoming heavy pressure in the pocket and an inconsistent passing night, Boller saved his best passes for his third and final series.

In guiding a 13-play, 95-yard drive, he converted his first third down with a 23-yard pass to receiver Kevin Johnson and threaded his scoring throw to backup tight end Daniel Wilcox. That pass, which sailed between two linebackers, gave the Ravens a 7-0 lead with 4:40 left in the second quarter.

Boller's first start since injuring his leg nine months ago proved more about his perseverance than his polish.

The second-year quarterback couldn't find an open receiver on his first play of the game, had to evade two pass rushers on the second and was sacked on the third. He later had a string of short-armed passes, one of which bounced a couple of yards in front of rookie wide receiver Devard Darling on a 10-yard out route.

Boller's first two series totaled 5 yards on eight plays. He then walked off confidently after putting together a length-of-the-field drive.

"I thought we worked well on offense, especially the last drive the first unit played," said Boller, whose quarterback rating of 111.3 more than doubled the 51.8 mark he compiled as a rookie. "I had some happy feet the first couple of series and then settled down. I felt pretty good in the end."

Like most of last season, the Ravens' defense set the tone from the start.

After swarming running back Warrick Dunn twice, the Ravens ended the only series for Atlanta quarterback Michael Vick by sacking him on a safety blitz from Will Demps.

"It was great to get the first hit," Demps said.

The defense closed out the first half with two interceptions of Falcons rookie backup quarterback Matt Schaub. The first - a high throw that bounced off Michael Jenkins' hands - was run back 49 yards by Weary to extend the Ravens' lead to 14-0 with 1:45 left in the second quarter.

"Our first unit played Ravens football," defensive coordinator Mike Nolan said. "They were physical and ran to the ball. Our aim in training camp is to play as one. It's one of our themes. We did that in the first half."

In the end, the Falcons crossed midfield only twice and never moved past the Ravens' 32-yard line.

Said coach Brian Billick: "Anytime you can shut a team out, I don't care if it's the preseason, you've got to feel good about it."

The Ravens pulled farther ahead in the third quarter, when Wilcox scored his second touchdown on a 10-yard pass from Kordell Stewart and Matt Stover kicked a 38-yard field goal.

Stewart had an otherwise forgettable Ravens debut, however, going 2-for-7 for 17 yards.

The game represented the Ravens' biggest rout in the preseason since they beat the New York Giants, 38-9, in 2001. Whether the Ravens can maintain that level of concentration when it gets closer to Lewis' trial is uncertain.

"That's pretty far in the future to be looking at distractions," tight end Todd Heap said. "We're more focused on right now. I'm sure Jamal is more focused on right now at this point of the season."

Said Boller: "It's out of our control. We have to be behind him and hope for good things."

Next for Ravens

Preseason matchup: Ravens vs. Philadelphia Eagles

Site: Lincoln Financial Field, Philadelphia

When: Next Friday, 8 p.m.

TV/Radio: Ch. 13/WJFK (1300 AM), WQSR (102.7 FM)

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