Ravens punch in, get right to work

Ravens Gameday

Ravens 27, Buccaneers 0

September 11, 2006|By MIKE PRESTON

TAMPA, Fla. — TAMPA, Fla.-- --Bart Scott said it, we didn't. "If you're not a very good team," he said, "you can't win on the road."

We (meaning you, me, everybody in the greater Baltimore area except the Ravens themselves) had been saying for a long time that this team can't get too full of itself - with its new quarterback, new attitude, new mandate from the owner to the head coach, and so on - as long as it couldn't win on the road.

And it hadn't won on the road since November. Of 2004.

Yesterday, the Ravens won on the road, and "won" is an understatement. On opening day, on the home turf of a Tampa Bay Buccaneers team that is a defending division champion and perennial playoff contender and is generally tough to beat at Raymond James Stadium, the Ravens punched them, clocked them, then stood over them daring them to get up, like Muhammad Ali against Sonny Liston.

A knockout, 27-0 on all the cards.

You want to set a tone coming out of the gates? That was a textbook example.

"In this league, you have to win on the road," the exuberant Scott continued. "It makes a statement to the NFL when we can come out on the road and dominate a great football team."

So, the next question had to be: If you're not a very good team if you can't win away from home, does bludgeoning the Bucs this way make the Ravens a very good team?

"We haven't earned the right to call ourselves a good team," Scott said. "We're a team that's striving to be better every week, and wherever that takes us, that's where it takes us."

No, let's not start thinking about where that might take the Ravens - like on a return trip to Florida in February, just a little to the south of here.

But if you think it's ridiculous to imagine that, how ridiculous was it to imagine this?

The punishment the Ravens inflicted on the Bucs couldn't all have just come from switching out Kyle Boller for Steve McNair or a gimpy Ray Lewis and Ed Reed for their healthy counterparts. If you didn't know any better, you'd swear they took every lesson from last year, ingrained it deeply in their psyches and unleashed the results on what had appeared to be a quality opponent.

With this validation of everything the Ravens had invested into the offseason because of the McNair signing, the reuniting of the locker room and the heat turned up under Brian Billick at the end of last season, the season has completely changed complexion. Road games that looked sketchy before yesterday now look more possible. The idea of scratching into the playoffs might be replaced, ideally, by marching confidently in.

But that's way down the road, no pun intended. Starting yesterday with the nine-minute, 80-yard opening march, continuing with the three-and-out stuffing of the Bucs on their first possession and rolling through the rest of the afternoon, the Ravens silenced the crowd, made them mad and then made them leave. You can't possibly ask for more than that on the road.

The previous 11 games, the Ravens had been the most gracious of visitors. Not on this day.

"It goes to show you," said Adalius Thomas, who registered one of the most concussive hits of the day on tight end Anthony Becht in the fourth quarter, a delayed reaction that resembled something Bugs Bunny would do to Elmer Fudd with an anvil. "When we communicate on defense and execute, and we have no turnovers, it's hard to beat us when we don't beat ourselves."

That was a hallmark of last season, the Ravens beating themselves, falling apart every chance they got - never more notably than in Detroit in October, aka Flag Day (21 penalties).

Said Thomas: "From what I understand, [the Bucs] were watching film of the Detroit game and saying, `That's how we're going to get those guys, we're going to make them lose their concentration and focus.' We're like, `You think that's going to happen again? That's how you're going to beat us?' "

Whether the Bucs actually did that or not wasn't clear, but Thomas' point was. They never gave the Bucs an opening, and thus never let them get any momentum. When it seemed as if they might, the Ravens flipped it back on them - by Chris McAlister on his interception return for a touchdown, on Scott's pass deflection that Haloti Ngata lugged 60 torturous yards the other way and on the third-quarter stop inside the 10 to preserve the shutout.

Ray Lewis said that the Bucs trying to push it into the end zone instead of taking the chip-shot field goal was "disrespecting" them.

Uh-oh.

OK, it's still one out of 16. So take this for what it's worth: This is the second time that the Ravens have won on the road to open the season.

The other time was in 2000. Remember how that year turned out?

david.steele@baltsun.com

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