Defense devours Broncos as Ravens move up in class; 'Defense wins championships'; Deflected TD pass aids wild-card win; Tenn. is next stop on Super path
In a postseason defined by defense, the Ravens struck an ominous pose yesterday.
Super Bowl contender.
On the heels of a 21-3 wild-card dismantling of the Denver Broncos, the Ravens suddenly look like a very tough team to beat.
Maybe even the team to beat.
"I think so," said defensive end Michael McCrary, after his three-sack effort underscored another dominating performance. "Defense wins championships. We went down in history this year when we broke two records for defense."
The Ravens (13-4) are trying to make history now by becoming the second straight AFC Central wild-card team to reach the Super Bowl. The road winds through Adelphia Coliseum, where they'll renew a fierce division rivalry with the Tennessee Titans in a playoff game Sunday at 12:30 p.m.
They split the season series with Tennessee, losing at home on Oct. 22, 14-6, and winning in Nashville on Nov. 12, 24-23. The Ravens are the only visiting team to win in Adelphia in the Titans' two seasons there.
"I'm not sure how many people thought we would go back there, given the circumstances," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "There's a great deal of respect between these two teams, and I think they knew we were going back there, and we knew we were going to be back there. It's going to be a hell of a game."
Yesterday's game - played in wind gusts of up to 27 mph with a wind-chill factor of 5 degrees - brought Baltimore's tenacious defense to a new high. Discredited for playing a soft schedule in a soft division, the Ravens systematically destroyed one of the NFL's best offenses.
A record crowd of 69,638 at PSINet Stadium watched as the Ravens allowed the league's second-ranked offense just 42 rushing yards and 177 total yards. The Broncos crossed midfield only once, got as far as the 12, and settled for a 31-yard field goal by Jason Elam.
Defensive tackle Tony Siragusa made a big stop at the 12 when he hurdled Denver guard Dan Neil to tackle Anderson for no gain on third-and-one.
For Ravens offensive tackle Harry Swayne, who had played two seasons with the Broncos, the shutdown was a revelation.
"I was kind of surprised we were able to do that to them," Swayne said. "I know how Denver prides itself on offense, but they had out-and-out total breakdowns.
"Receivers were dropping balls, and they never drop balls. It's not the weather, either, because it's just as bad out in Denver. I think they were a little surprised by how hard we bring it."
The Ravens brought it hard enough that 1,500-yard rusher Mike Anderson was held to 40 yards on 15 carries. The inability to run, along with a second-quarter deficit, chased the Broncos out of the running game in the second half.
The key issue for the Ravens was avoiding the cut blocks the Broncos' offensive line is so famous for delivering.