Taking his turn, Sams points way to Ravens' win

Ravens 24 Falcons 10

Ravens Gameday

November 20, 2006|By DAVID STEELE

It was B.J. Sams' time, and it was B.J. Sams' turn.

He was overdue for a big kick return that was going to make the difference between the Ravens winning a game and losing it. And it was time for the special teams overall - besides Matt Stover - to make not just an impact, but the biggest impact.

There might not be another 8-2 team in the NFL that needs to compensate for one unit or another's shortcomings as often as these Ravens. Yesterday, against an Atlanta Falcons team getting into position to win in spite of itself, the special teams, especially Sams, did the bailing. Once again, in maybe the least-probable manner yet, the Ravens stayed afloat.

"If I keep doing what I'm doing," said Sams, as nonchalant as a man with 212 game-changing return yards can sound, "and special teams keep doing what we're doing, we're bound to break plenty of them."

If that doesn't scare the rest of the AFC, it ought to.

In turning an ugly, rhythm-deprived muckfest into a 24-10 domination at M&T Bank Stadium, the Ravens discovered a new path to victory. Just wait for Sams to go back, open a seam for him, get out in front and watch him run, one direction or another, even backward if need be.

The funny thing about the day in the sun for Sams and the special teams is that they might have been more consistent all year than either the offense or defense. After each teeth-grinding win, Brian Billick talks up the importance of winning the field position battle and draws big yawns and eye rolls from fans and reporters. Yet the Ravens have quietly managed to win that battle so routinely that it's almost taken for granted.

Even funnier: They turned the game yesterday even though Stover missed a field-goal attempt (finally) and Allen Rossum ran a punt back 36 yards to set up the only touchdown in the first 2 1/2 quarters. It's the special teams' fate: the heroics and the slip-ups get noticed, but not the steady excellence.

"I look at special teams like silent killers," Gary Stills said. "We just have to hold our weight; we don't need recognition, we don't need credit, we just have to do our jobs. We're going to do our thing anyway."

Sams, for example, has been solid all season, fifth in the AFC in kickoff returns and 10th in punt returns going into the game. But since running punts back for touchdowns in consecutive games early in his rookie season two years ago, he has not gone coast to coast with any kick since. He didn't yesterday, either, although it was the second straight home game (following the win over the Bengals) in which one of his returns aided a victory.

Thus, the spotlight has avoided Sams. Yesterday, though, the spotlight was about the only thing he didn't elude.

For example, on his 59-yard beauty of a punt return midway through the third quarter, half the Falcons' coverage team had a shot at him and missed. Left, then right, then straight, then toward the sideline, then back in, then a spin, then one more swerve - he probably was a hurdle or somersault away from getting to the end zone.

His grateful Ravens teammates, then trailing 7-3, had to settle for a start at the Falcons' 17-yard line. Shut out in the first half - having wasted Sams' 65-yard stampede behind a convoy up the right sideline late in the half by fumbling it away two plays later - they made sure Sams was rewarded by scoring a touchdown and taking the lead, 10-7.

They never trailed again. Oh, they were tied one possession later, but got another nice, short field on the ensuing possession. Thanks, again, B.J., for another charge on the kickoff, another near-score before going down at the 37, a 59-yarder. Three plays later, touchdown, 17-10.

The Falcons, already perplexed by their own inconsistency on both sides of the ball, were through. The rest of the game was a mugging in broad daylight.

The returns made such a difference, Steve McNair was able to say, "It means you already have three points, and that's a good feeling for an offense," and not get hit by lightning in mid-speech - since he was the one who fumbled away the chance for at least three points after the first return.

No biggie, Sams said. He just backed up a little later and did it again.

Now, you have to wonder what it's going to take to beat the Ravens. This is their second four-game winning streak of the season, and they look far better, far tougher to shake, in this one than in the first one.

They win with McNair pulling his Captain Comeback routine, with Ray Lewis in sweats and a ski cap, and with Sams snatching momentum and confidence in the blink of an eye.

It was the special teams' turn yesterday. It was B.J. Sams' time. If this keeps up, it might be the Ravens' time after all.

david.steele@baltsun.com

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