-- The attitude shared by the Baltimore Ravens' secondary is best summed up by cornerback Deion Sanders, the future Hall of Famer who dispenses wisdom so profound that his teammates quote him.
"I believe it was Deion who said, 'When they throw the ball, they're not really throwing it to the wide receiver, they're throwing it to us to go get it,' " Pro Bowl cornerback Chris McAlister said. "For us, that's how we approach it when we're in practice, in games, because we have a lot of guys in our secondary that can make plays."
That secondary will be challenged Sunday when the Ravens (4-2) face quarterback Donovan McNabb and wide receiver Terrell Owens of the undefeated Philadelphia Eagles. Baltimore's defense will need a strong performance to help compensate for a struggling offense that most likely will be without three Pro Bowl performers: running back Jamal Lewis (NFL suspension), left tackle Jonathan Ogden (out with a hamstring injury) and tight end Todd Heap (doubtful with an ankle injury).
Baltimore's secondary has scored more touchdowns (three) than its wide receivers (two). Four of Baltimore's seven longest plays are interception returns, topped by Chad Williams's 94-yarder last week against Buffalo. The Ravens are tied with Seattle with a league-high 10 interceptions.
Creating turnovers "is a huge part of what we are," Ravens Coach Brian Billick said. "That back end is really playing and coming together at an elite level. They've got a ways to go, but I think we are beginning to see the signs of them coming together as a group along the lines that we anticipated when we knew Deion was going to join us and [when McAlister] came back."
McAlister missed all of training camp in a contract dispute. Sanders, 37, didn't join the team until early September after a three-year retirement, then missed two games with a hamstring injury.
But Sanders has three interceptions in the past two games, including one that he returned for a touchdown, and the secondary seems to be jelling. The test will come Sunday against the Eagles.
"I think it's probably the best defense, period, that we've played against," Philadelphia Coach Andy Reid told reporters on Friday. "Their secondary is really good. When you can bring in Deion Sanders as your third corner, that's a pretty good deal."
Owens, who joined the Eagles in the offseason after wiggling out of a trade with the Ravens, enters the game with 34 catches for 596 yards and eight touchdowns. Last season, when he came to Baltimore with the San Francisco 49ers, the Ravens held Owens to just three catches for 23 yards in a 44-6 Ravens win. But Owens has something he didn't have last year -- McNabb.
The four-time Pro Bowler is completing 65.7 percent of his passes and has thrown for 1,753 yards and 13 touchdowns, with only three interceptions. His passer rating of 105.6 is third in the league. McNabb, who is 6 feet 2 and 240 pounds, presents a different challenge because not only is he big and strong, but he has the ability to scramble and buy time for his receivers to get open.
"It's very hard. I don't care who you are, I don't think even Deion Sanders can cover a receiver that's breaking his route off and a quarterback that's moving around," cornerback Gary Baxter said. "You can't cover a guy all over the place. We're going to have to play until the play is over with, and we're going to stick to our guys. If they go to the bathroom, we've got to go to the bathroom with them. That's the way it's got to be. These guys will get open and they will make things happen."
But the Ravens' defensive backs also will try to make things happen.
"We have a bunch of athletes that love to get the ball, that love to get their hands on the ball and score," safety Ed Reed said. "We're going to try to get more turnovers. It's just a part of the game."