McAlister's TD seals victory

Cornerback's 31-yard score off interception is his second this season

Ravens Gameday

Ravens 19 Bills 7

January 01, 2007|By Edward Lee | Edward Lee,SUN REPORTER

The only touchdown the Ravens needed against the Buffalo Bills yesterday came courtesy of one of their standout defensive players.

Cornerback Chris McAlister provided the touchdown when he intercepted quarterback J.P. Losman and returned it 31 yards. The play propelled the AFC North champions to a 19-7 win at M&T Bank Stadium and gave the Ravens the No. 2 seed in the AFC playoffs and a first-round bye.

McAlister's interception return with 3:46 left in the third quarter broke open what had been a two-point game and provided a spark to an otherwise lethargic offensive performance.

"I think the interception itself came at a great time," said McAlister, who scored after the Bills had cut into a 9-0 deficit on a 44-yard touchdown reception by wide receiver Lee Evans. "Needless to say, anytime you can make a play on defense to get the ball back for the offense - whether it's a fumble recovery or interception - you have to be happy with it."

Coach Brian Billick agreed, saying, "We were up and down the field and couldn't punch it away. ... We couldn't move the ball until Chris McAlister changed [things] and put it back to a two-score game. Huge."

McAlister, who earned his third Pro Bowl berth in the past four years, has been proving his value to the Ravens this season.

McAlister leads the team in interceptions with six, and yesterday's return for a touchdown was a team-high second and his first since taking back an interception 60 yards in the season-opening triumph over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

The score also lifted him into a tie with Buccaneers cornerback Ronde Barber for the most interception returns for a touchdown this season.

McAlister said he jumped on the route by wide receiver Peerless Price after watching the Buffalo wide-outs run those same patterns.

"They run a lot of short routes," McAlister said. "We came in at halftime, and we made a few adjustments. [The coaching staff] said, `When you see it, believe it, and take a chance and go for it.' "

The risk was that Price might have been running a pattern similar to the stop-and-go route that Evans used to fly past Ravens cornerback Samari Rolle on Evans' touchdown catch.

But McAlister said the thought never crossed his mind.

"As a corner, you live on that island, man," he said. "The only thing you can do is believe what you see and trust your instincts because that's what got you here. You can't think while you're out there. You just have to react."

The coincidence is that two series before McAlister's touchdown, linebacker Ray Lewis implored his defensive teammates to make a play.

"I think Ray actually came on the field and said that," McAlister said. "He said, `Good teams don't let teams hang around. Somebody has to do something. We all have to make a play.' "

The Ravens can be thankful that McAlister grabbed the mantle, as his score gave the Ravens a lift and some breathing room.

"We were kind of stalling out and stepping on our toes, which was frustrating," center Mike Flynn said. "And then - boom! A quick interception for a touchdown and all of a sudden we're up nine, and it's a totally different game. We get into running the ball more, a little play-action, and the defense really starts rushing the passer because they don't have a choice but to throw the ball. It was a huge play for us, and we needed that kind of spark."

Running back Jamal Lewis said he was not surprised that McAlister made it happen.

"Chris McAlister - who else?" Lewis said. "He comes up big all of the time. He made the play, and that was huge for us."

edward.lee@baltsun.com

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