Dominant effort confirms team is title contender

Ravens 20 Chiefs 10

Ravens Gameday

December 11, 2006|By DAVID STEELE

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — KANSAS CITY, Mo.-- --The crowd at Arrowhead Stadium was supposed to be a big problem for the Ravens yesterday.

"They had a crowd?" linebacker Bart Scott asked, deadpan.

Oh, that was a crowd - more than 77,000 fans of a Kansas City Chiefs team that was fighting for its playoff life, a team that hadn't lost a December game at home in 10 years. You just couldn't hear them.

Until they started booing. And then started marching out.

Boos and footsteps in the other team's building - that's the soundtrack of a championship contender. Not just winning on the road, not just doing it late in the season when so much more is on the line, but dominating, even humiliating, the opposition.

The Ravens embarrassed a pretty decent Chiefs team - albeit one that had coughed up a fourth-quarter lead to a backup quarterback the week before - and made it look like a bottom feeder.

Coach Brian Billick called the 20-10 throttling - the score was not indicative, as they say, of how lopsided the game really was - "as good of a road win that we've ever had, given the circumstances."

You could disprove him if you went back to the 2000 playoffs. But not this season.

It's not only the best road victory, but it's also the most impressive victory, period. Better than the opener in Tampa, better than in New Orleans after the bye, better than two weeks ago at home against the Steelers.

So good that the impact of the loss two Thursdays ago in Cincinnati could almost be revised to a speed bump on the road to a possible postseason bye, even home-field advantage. The Ravens have to play at least as well in their last three games to reach those heights, but this one tells you that they're bringing their best at the right time.

But back to the crowd. Unlike his teammates who had never played at Arrowhead before, defensive lineman Trevor Pryce had come here every year during his nine seasons as a Denver Bronco. Had he ever heard the crowd like this?

"I've never heard them boo," he said. "But we didn't beat them too many times."

Certainly not this way. Pryce was as big a reason as any Raven, shredding the Chiefs' protection of quarterback Trent Green, once coming through so cleanly that Pryce had to carry Green gently to the ground to avoid a roughing-the-passer penalty.

Without doing much out of the ordinary (at least for them), the Ravens sacked Green five times, forced him to fumble once and rushed him into both of his interceptions. All three turnovers came in the first half, when the Ravens put their imprint on the game, and drove the fans to boo the Chiefs into the locker room.

That was before the Ravens' 88-yard, two-play, 56-second touchdown drive. And their 86-yard, 16-play, touchdown drive of more than nine minutes. This offense wasn't perfect, far from it. But to know that the Ravens are capable of striking quickly one minute and pounding their way downfield the next should be a relief to them and unnerving to opponents.

"Coming in all along, we knew we had the possibility of being a dominant football team," quarterback Steve McNair said. "It was just a matter of how quickly we could jell together, and I think we knew the first two weeks of training camp.

"Now, I think we're jelling as well as any team in the National Football League."

But before the offense asserted itself yesterday, the defense again imposed its will. The defensive players acknowledged that, yes, taking the crowd out of the game was a goal going in. They almost slipped up coming out of the gate, but held firm and got an early break when Lawrence Tynes missed a 32-yard field goal on the Chiefs' first drive.

Same thing in the second quarter, after Larry Johnson's 47-yard gallop and the 15 extra yards for Terrell Suggs' hit out of bounds, when the Chiefs were at the Ravens' 27 and the composure might not have been slipping, but certainly didn't seem to be on firm footing.

Three plays later, they picked off Green a second time. Rarely has a 6-0 game with 35 minutes left looked so ... over. Midway through the third quarter, when McNair's pass settled into Mark Clayton's hands 5 yards beyond any defender with 50 yards of open space in front of him, it really was over.

And the silence was deafening.

"In the third and fourth quarter," linebacker Adalius Thomas said, "you get tired of cheering for nothing."

Ideally, this will lead to nothing but home playoff games. Realistically, the Ravens probably will have to go through another AFC city to get to Miami. None has the reputation Kansas City has, but that rep is less fearsome this morning.

"That's the most satisfying thing; that's what all athletes dream of," Scott said, "to come to a hostile atmosphere, to get cussed out and get booed and to send them home with their mouths shut.

"And," he added, in one last backhand to the inhospitable hosts, "I'm disappointed in their barbecue, too."

david.steele@baltsun.com

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