Once again, Ray Lewis and the Ravens' defense smothered the Denver Broncos. Once again, running back Jamal Lewis ground them into submission.
By the end of the Ravens' 26-6 victory yesterday at M&T Bank Stadium, it was difficult for the record crowd of 69,721 to tell whether the Broncos were holding white towels or white flags.
The Ravens' defense grabbed the game and third-string quarterback Danny Kanell by the throat from the beginning and squeezed the fight out of the Broncos in the end. Two interceptions - by Ray Lewis and Gary Baxter - and a fourth-down stand deep in Denver territory set up easy scores in a 17-point fourth quarter, turning a 9-6 lead into a rout.
"As long as we come out and play our game, I think we have the advantage mentally," outside linebacker Adalius Thomas said. "It still doesn't make the win automatic. But when you go against them, we know what it takes to beat them."
In keeping an opponent out of the end zone for the first time this season, the Ravens (4-3) remained atop the AFC North, holding a one-game lead over the Cincinnati Bengals. The 20-point win over Denver (5-3) was the largest for the Ravens in a one-sided series that has featured embarrassments on such stages as the playoffs and Monday Night Football.
"You never want to put a lot into history," left guard Edwin Mulitalo said, "but we had the confidence going in from the past games."
Nursing a three-point lead in the fourth quarter, the Ravens' defense barricaded midfield as well as the end zone.
Ray Lewis ended a Denver drive at the Ravens' 43-yard line, racing over to wide-open receiver Rod Smith and picking off the pass. In delivering his biggest play of the season, Lewis returned it to the Broncos' 20.
Four plays later, Kyle Boller rolled out to his right and hit tight end Terry Jones with a 5-yard pass, notching the Ravens' first touchdown on their fourth trip to the red zone.
"I saw Danny Kanell kept reading his receivers and I just broke on it," Lewis said of his 15th career interception. "Good thing it was there."
After the Ravens stopped Denver on fourth-and-eight with a sack by Peter Boulware, the last of Matt Stover's four field goals stretched the lead to 19-6 with three minutes left in the game.
Less than a minute later, Baxter intercepted Kanell to continue the onslaught. On the next play, Jamal Lewis broke an arm tackle at the line and ran the rest of the way untouched for a 28-yard touchdown.
Lewis, the NFL's leading rusher, pounded out 134 yards on a career-high 32 carries for his sixth straight 100-yard game. More impressively, it was the first time a running back has cracked that mark against Denver's fourth-ranked defense.
"You could see it in their eyes," Jamal Lewis said. "Once you get the ball downhill and the line is really dominating, they just wear down."
The Ravens' defense didn't just wear down the Broncos. It pulverized them.
Of the 37 offensive plays in the fourth quarter, 32 of them were in Denver territory. The defense's effort paved the way for the final three scoring drives of 20, 3 and 28 yards.
"It shows our offense that no matter what they do," Baxter said, "we have their back."