BALTIMORE, Oct. 24 -- The Baltimore Ravens thought they played lackluster football Sunday afternoon, and that alone might hint at how spectacular this team could be.
On a day when its star running back wasn't allowed in the stadium, when its uninspired offense continued to stumble, when players walked into the locker room and mumbled, "Man, that was bad," Baltimore still looked far superior to the Buffalo Bills.
Thirty-seven-year old Ravens cornerback Deion Sanders races into the end zone on a 48-yard interception return, the 50th interception of his career.
(Joe Giza -- Reuters)
Despite their numerous deficiencies, the Ravens dominated Buffalo, 20-6, in front of 69,809 at M&T Bank Stadium. It marked another win practically hand-delivered by the Baltimore defense. Deion Sanders had two interceptions -- one returned for a touchdown -- and the Ravens picked off a total of four passes, tying a team record and boosting Baltimore to 4-2 this season.
At once a compliment and an insult, a strength and a weakness, this has now become hard fact: Baltimore's defense is more of a threat to score than its offense.
"We know as a defense that we've got to carry a lot of the weight, and that's our job," said safety Chad Williams, who had an interception. "We can get the ball and turn the game around. This is how we look at it: We're not just on a defense. We're on offense, too."
Rarely has one team been so clearly divided into two separate parts. There's the defense, forceful and opportunistic; there's the offense, meek and incapable.
As usual Sunday, one carried the other. Baltimore's defense gained more yards returning its four interceptions (178) than its offense gained in 56 offensive snaps (160).
The pressing questions during the Ravens' bye week -- would quarterback Kyle Boller rebound from a miserable, three-interception game against the Washington Redskins two weeks ago? Would Chester Taylor fill in adequately for Jamal Lewis? -- turned out to be irrelevant.
Lewis, who pleaded guilty Oct. 7 to using a cell phone to try to set up a drug purchase, sat out the first game of a two-game suspension for violating the NFL's substance abuse policy. In his place, Taylor ran hard -- if not always effectively -- and gained 89 yards on 21 carries. Boller played passably, completing 10 of 19 passes for 86 yards, though he didn't complete a pass in the second half.
The offense's biggest contribution Sunday, though, tended to be jogging onto the field for three plays, giving the defense a quick rest.
"I'm sure there's a bunch of teams that threw for a bunch of yards, had a bunch of yards and lost this week," Ravens Coach Brian Billick said. "You choose. You tell me which one you want."
"We're still not clicking," Boller said, "but it was good enough for a win."
With any other defense, it might not have been. Late in the first quarter with the score tied at 3, Sanders entered the spotlight he so covets and gave the Ravens commanding control of the game. Bills quarterback Drew Bledsoe threw a screen pass to Willis McGahee, Williams tipped it and the ball dropped into Sanders's hands.
For the next 48 yards, the cornerback celebrated his 50th career interception in style. He high-stepped 30 yards from the end zone. He turned around and taunted defenders who chased him. He danced under the goal post and pointed at television cameras.
"He was Prime Time today," said linebacker Terrell Suggs, who had two sacks. "I love the way he dances. Deion's always got a highlight ready."
Two quarters and a five-yard B.J. Sams touchdown run later, Sanders delivered another highlight. With 12 minutes left and the Ravens ahead, 17-3, Sanders ended Buffalo's best drive of the day, intercepting an errant Bledsoe pass in the end zone to clinch the win.
"Too many bad mistakes," Buffalo Coach Mike Mularkey said. "We just couldn't overcome it."
"Wonderful day, wonderful win," said Sanders, who has three interceptions in the last two games. "When I came back, they said, 'Ah, he's too old. He shouldn't be doing this.' But I'm a 37-year-old kid out there. I'm smiling so much."
And Sunday, it was contagious. In the locker room after the game, teammates practically lined up to hug Sanders.
They celebrated the record-tying, four-interception performance, sure. But the defense compiled a few other statistics that, while not as flashy, were equally impressive: Buffalo went 0 for 4 inside the 20-yard line, and 0 for 3 in goal-to-go situations. The Bills rushed for a season-low 85 yards. "We can stuff people," said Williams, the safety. "Even if our offense doesn't do too much, we can win games. This team, it's all about defense."
Ravens Notes: Tackle Jonathan Ogden pulled up and grabbed his left leg late in the fourth quarter, hobbled off the field and did not return. The Ravens said that Ogden, who missed the season opener because of a left knee problem, will undergo an MRI today. . . . Baltimore wide receiver Travis Taylor, who sat out the last four games with a groin injury, returned Sunday and caught two passes for 52 yards. "To finally have a chance to play and be part of this team," Taylor said, "just feels so great."