Ravens reach rarefied air, so foes won't breathe easy

Ravens Gameday

Ravens 27 Steelers 0

November 27, 2006|By RICK MAESE

Ray Lewis stood in front of his locker with an ice pack the size of a car battery strapped to his back. If there was any pain there, he wasn't feeling it, not this soon after such a big win.

"I'm at a place where I've never been," the linebacker said, well aware that the Ravens' 9-2 record is unlike any other start in franchise history.

Hopefully for the Ravens, the ice pack brought some sense of relief, because as Lewis and his teammates wake up this morning, that bag of ice has been replaced on their backs by a giant bull's-eye.

That's what happens when you thrash the defending Super Bowl champions, making a football team look like a ballet troop. It's what happens when you shut out your division rival, when your defense records nine sacks and when your offense puts together one of its most complete games to date.

The message is clear and it popped up in every single inbox in the NFL. This isn't luck and good fortune. The Ravens are officially among the league's best teams, and after yesterday's 27-0 win over the Steelers, they'll start receiving mention alongside the Indianapolis Colts as a favorite to reach the Super Bowl.

"People don't like watching it on tape," defensive end Trevor Pryce said. "We look like world beaters."

While other top teams are revealing their vulnerable sides -- the Colts losing last week, the Bears losing yesterday and the Chargers barely surviving against the Raiders -- the Ravens appear to be getting stronger. Teams know that now and each week, starting with Thursday's game in Cincinnati, you bet opponents will play a bit harder because of what the Ravens have evolved into.

If you didn't see yesterday's game, it'll sound like complete hyperbole when your buddies try telling you about it. In fact, this was one of the games where what you heard counted as much as what you saw.

Like when linebacker Bart Scott busted through the line unimpeded and rocked Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger in the second quarter. "I was like 30 yards downfield and I heard it," said teammate Terrell Suggs.

Roethlisberger lay on his back for a couple of minutes and didn't return until the end of the half. "That's probably the hardest I've ever been hit in my life," he said after the game. "I truly feel that way."

After yesterday, the man is a certified expert on hard hits. Nine sacks tied a Ravens record and all the crackling down on the field sounded like a bulldozer storming a potato chip factory.

"You're not only sending a message for the next time you play them; you're sending a message to the next team you play," Suggs said. "We just sent a message that we're here now."

It doesn't take Walter Camp to realize that the Ravens' offense is improved this season. But the buzz around the rest of the league from now until the playoffs is as if somebody enabled a video-game cheat code. From play to play, you don't know who's on the line or who's crashing through it. By the time a quarterback figures out which receiver might be open, he's lying on his back counting clouds.

With so many different packages and formations, you can't watch enough film of this unit. For opponents, every Sunday is like a pop quiz covering material you never even knew to study. You could hear the frustration coming out of the Pittsburgh locker room.

"They kept blitzing, they kept blitzing, they kept blitzing," Steelers running back Willie Parker said. "They were blitzing out of formations they weren't supposed to be blitzing out of."

The Ravens recorded their second shutout of the season yesterday and improved on their league-best turnover ratio (30 takeaways to 14 giveaways through 11 games). They could ultimately be just as devastating as the team that won the Super Bowl six years ago. Maybe more so.

"This defense right here is totally different," said Lewis, who returned to the lineup yesterday after missing the previous two games with a back injury. "We have so much athleticism that it's almost scary."

With the pieces coming together and the Ravens' real potential coming into focus, this is not a team anyone should want to face right now, whether it's the Colts, Patriots or Bengals. Despite how loud the message seems to be on the field, players are careful with their words, usually understating their performance.

"We did what we do," is how Adalius Thomas described yesterday's game.

Lewis, as you might expect, used a few more words, not letting the ice on his back numb his excitement for what could be around the corner.

"No one is going out saying this, predicting this, predicting that," he said. "We're not saying we are anything outside of a good football team right now."

The Ravens have just a couple of days to prepare for the next challenge, a rematch with the Bengals. "We are better than Baltimore," Cincinnati wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh bragged earlier this month, after his team lost here.

That wasn't the case then and that isn't the case heading into Round 2. With just five games remaining in the season, there are a couple of teams that are as good as the Ravens, but if they keep playing the way they did yesterday, there aren't many that will be better.

rick.maese@baltsun.com

Total control

The Ravens overwhelmed the Steelers in the first half on the way to their 27-0 rout.

......................................Steelers ........... Ravens

First downs .....................3 ........................ 16

Yds. rushing.................. 14 ......................... 94

Yds. passing ..................22 ...................... 121

Total yards ....................36 ...................... 215

Third-down effic. .........0-5 ....................... 3-5

Sacks ................................0 .......................... 3

Points ................................0 ....................... 17

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