Baltimore Fortifies New Line of Defense
By Ken Denlinger
BALTIMORE, Sept. 7 — The Baltimore Ravens have been saying for months they would reintroduce the honored art of defense to football-savvy fans here. Today, it happened.
No one is prepared just yet to forget Gino Marchetti, Art Donovan, Mike Curtis and some others who made Memorial Stadium such a painful memory for opponents. But Ravens defenders shut out the explosive Cincinnati Bengals in the second half and sparked a 23-10 AFC Central victory before 52,968.
"Hopefully," said Baltimore Coach Ted Marchibroda, "it’s a step for us."
The Ravens’ offense overcame two lost fumbles and an interception by Vinny Testaverde in the opening two quarters by scoring 20 points after halftime. In the process, they showed off a young player with immense promise and an aging former Pro Bowler who has been out of favor for more than two years.
Most of this, including the yardage that allowed 34-year-old Earnest Byner to become the 20th most productive rusher in NFL history, happened with the Ravens (1-1) in the no-huddle mode that produced points so impressively last season. Today’s best effort was a 96-yard drive that featured Graham and crushing run blocking, and ended with Green’s touchdown catch with 9 minutes 36 seconds remaining.
"Those guys opening holes was like watching 350-pounders do ballet," Graham said.
Added Leo Goeas: "It’s nice to have a guy running like a maniac behind us." Goeas moved from guard to center when Quentin Neujahr suffered a sprained ankle midway through the third quarter.
Matt Stover hit 37-, 32- and 41-yard field goals for the Ravens and became the NFL’s all-time accuracy leader in his discipline at 80.48 percent.
The enormous new wrinkle was a defense that sacked Bengals quarterback Jeff Blake five times, held Bengals running back Ki-Jana Carter to 22 yards and strutted off the field after strong safety Stevon Moore’s second interception in the end zone with slightly more than a minute to play.
This was close to astonishing to fans who had seen the Ravens lose 9 of their past 11 games, including last week’s home defeat to the Jacksonville Jaguars. In each of those losses, the Ravens had been ahead after halftime.
With that in mind, few among those still on hand thought a 13-point lead was safe with the Bengals on Baltimore’s 12-yard line with 1:09 remaining. But when Blake passed into the end zone, Moore was waiting.
"All that time on the computer paid off," defensive aide Jim Schwartz yelled on the field moments after Moore made the interception, returned it 18 yards and then spiked the ball in grand fashion before the offense ran out the clock. "We schemed that one."
With pass-rush specialist Michael McCrary available after recovering from arthroscopic surgery on his left knee, the Ravens were at full strength defensively for the first time this season. He and rookie outside linebacker Peter Boulware shared three sacks; middle linebacker Ray Lewis and defensive tackle James Jones each had one.
Marchibroda praised McCrary for playing so hard he threw up on the field near the start of the game. "A combination of excitement and being out of shape," McCrary said.
The defense played decently the first half, but Cincinnati took a 10-3 halftime lead on an eight-yard touchdown catch by wide receiver Carl Pickens and a 46-yard field goal by Doug Pelfrey. Later, Pelfrey was wide left from 51 and 43 yards and had a 46-yarder blocked by Ravens free safety Rondell Jones.
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