When General speaks, defense rises to occasion

Ravens Gameday

Ravens 19 Bills 7

January 01, 2007|By PETER SCHMUCK

The black uniforms are growing on me, but I have to admit I was a little concerned as afternoon turned to evening at M&T Bank Stadium and it was starting to look like somebody other than the Ravens might be wearing them.

With four minutes left in the third quarter, it would have been easier to mistake the Ravens for San Diego State (minus the red trim) than a budding Super Bowl contender.

Brian Billick can call the bye-clinching 19-7 victory over Buffalo a "fabulous win" if he wants to, but the Bills hung around just long enough to create that moment when the possibility of the Ravens playing in the first playoff round instead of relaxing in front of the television suddenly became real.

Enter the General.

Ray Lewis called the defense together in the middle of the third quarter and gave everybody their marching orders.

"Good teams don't let teams hang around," he said. "Everybody needs to reach down and find a way to make a play. Great teams bury their opponents when they have an opportunity like this."

That vignette was brought to you by Chris McAlister, who heard Lewis loud and clear and took matters - as well as one errant pass from Bills quarterback J.P. Losman - into his own hands.

McAlister stepped in front of receiver Peerless Price at the Bills' 31-yard line to grab his sixth interception of the year and sprinted into the end zone to put an end to any real postseason suspense.

That put the Ravens up by nine points, and they would take advantage of a fourth- quarter field goal to pad the lead. Next stop, the couch during the first round of the playoffs.

"We wanted to play playoff-caliber football," said linebacker Terrell Suggs. "If you let a team like that hang around, they could ruin your dreams. We could have played next week if we didn't put them away."

Lewis never said that he sensed the game slipping away, but he wanted to make sure that it didn't.

"That's part of what I do as the general," he said. "You don't leave a team hanging around like that. That's a one-score game at that point. Anything can happen. It was up to us to make something happen."

That has been the traditional role of the Ravens defense, dating back to the last time they were in a situation where the Super Bowl was more than a distant probability. The difference this year is the efficiency of Steve McNair and the offense, but that offense was sputtering and the momentum had shifted when Losman hit wide receiver Lee Evans with a 44-yard touchdown pass with eight minutes to go in the third quarter.

It might be tempting to think that the Ravens suffered a mini-letdown, what with the playoff berth already in hand and the heavily unfavored Bills not considered a major obstacle to the No. 2 seed, but Lewis would have none of that.

"This is the NFL," he said. "The Buffalo Bills weren't just going to come in here and lay down. They hung around and they got one big play. Take away that one big play and we would have shut them out."

Now, all they can do is wait to find out who will be coming to Baltimore in two weeks. The early favorite would appear be the Indianapolis Colts (and wouldn't that be something), but the General said the top-ranked Ravens defense is willing to roll out the black-and-blue welcome mat for whoever earns the right to play here next.

"We're 13-3 and we've got the No. 1 defense," Lewis said. "Anybody who wants to come and see us can come and see us in Baltimore. I went the rough way to the Super Bowl [as a wild-card team] the last time. To be in the position we are in, this is the greatest blessing of all."

peter.schmuck@baltsun.com.

The Peter Schmuck Show airs on WBAL (1090 AM) at noon on Saturdays.

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