Sun., Sept. 17: Yes, It Was Ugly; Ravens Romp, 28-6
By Joe Platania, Press Box Staff
Sunday, September 17 -- There are times when the so-called "experts" are wrong.
They adamantly feel a football game is going to go a certain way, but they end up with egg on their faces. Then, they come back and tell us it's because of NFL parity, not their own clueless parody.
But there are those occasions when the experts are spot-on and chalk turns into ink.
Considering Oakland and Baltimore's Week One results -- one winning a 27-point shutout, one losing -- they said Sunday's game would get ugly.
It ended up looking worse than Phyllis Diller without sleep.
The Ravens boosted their record to 2-0 by unleashing its defense and blasting the winless Raiders, 28-6, in their home opener before an M&T Bank Stadium-record 70,744 fans, temporarily tying them with Cincinnati atop the AFC North Division with Pittsburgh's Monday-night game at Jacksonville pending.
Baltimore totally decimated Oakland's offense -- which now has a bye week to think about an 0-2 start -- to the tune of six sacks, six turnovers and 162 net yards. The Ravens have outscored their first two opponents, 55-6, and have not allowed a touchdown this season. They have notched nine sacks (by five different players) and have allowed just three. Their turnover ratio -- a real sore spot last year -- is a remarkable +8 (nine takeaways, one giveaway).Offensively, Baltimore has run the ball 65 times and passed it 63, while their opponents have just 39 rushes against 70 passes.
The six turnovers marked the first time the Raiders had been so generous since a similar debacle against Denver in 1989.
"Six turnovers? You keep that ratio going, you're going to do some good things," head coach Brian Billick said. "They haven't crossed the goal line yet, but that's something for the defense to hold on to."
When they had the ball, the Ravens were sometimes sloppy, yet they were methodical. They managed 32 minutes of possession time, and ground out four yards per play. They ran the ball 31 times and passed it 35.That kind of balance helped the Ravens get their sixth win in 11 home openers and their ninth home win in their last 11 games; it sent the Raiders to their eighth straight loss overall spanning two seasons.
"We're 2-0. It's never easy," Billick said. "That's what we're going to focus on (until Monday). We'll be critical tomorrow, but we're 2-0 and enjoying it and loving being there."
Oakland's offense was hamstrung, as it was working without tackle Robert Gallery and disgruntled wideout Jerry Porter. But even without the ball, it had problems from the very start.
Ravens' return specialist BJ Sams found a left-side hole and returned the opening kickoff 72 yards to the Oakland 32. A ground-oriented drive paced by Jamal Lewis (19 carries, 70 yards) -- the new Ravens' all-time combined yardage leader with 8067 yards, pushing Jermaine Lewis (8001) to second -- got the ball to the 1.But, a holding call and delay penalty made the Ravens settle for Matt Stover's 25-yard field goal just 4:28 into the game.
Raider quarterback Aaron Brooks, a free-agent pickup from New Orleans, then proceeded to hand his hosts six more points.
He fumbled a third-down snap from the Raider 37 and linebacker Terrell Suggs (seven tackles, two sacks, two QB hits, one forced fumble, one fumble recovery) recovered. Stover's 33-yard boot followed, and after nose guard Kelly Gregg (four tackles, two fumble recoveries) pounced on another bad snap, the veteran Ravens' kicker added his another field goal, a 37-yarder that made it 9-0 after one quarter.
"We came in hoping to play better," Raiders coach Art Shell said. "We had opportunities, but we didn't take advantage."
It was a funereal 15 minutes for the visitors, who were wearing black jerseys for the first time in six trips to Baltimore. Not only had the Ravens completely taken control of the game by starting three drives on Oakland's side of the field, but Brooks left the field with a rotator cuff sprain after a performance that saw his team attempt no passes, get no first downs and gain minus-1 net yards. Arizona State product Andrew Walter (10-for-27, 162 yards, six sacks, three INTs, 18.4 rating) took over before the quarter ended, and he was promptly greeted by Adalius Thomas (seven tackles, two sacks, three QB hits, INT, pass defensed), who sacked him for an eight-yard loss to force a punt.In a position to put the game away early with touchdowns, the Ravens weren't initially sharp, either, as their occasional offensive sluggishness resulted in ten penalties for 72 yards.
Tight end Daniel Wilcox dropped a third-down pass over the middle to stop one drive and a pass from Steve McNair (16-for-33, 143 yards, two sacks, TD, INT, 58 rating) to third-down ace Derrick Mason (five catches, 46 yards) was too high, forcing another punt. The Ravens also burned two early first-half timeouts.
The difference was that at least Baltimore had field position and field goals to show for it. "There were some things we could correct," tight end Todd Heap said. "It's good that we were able to correct those things and still get the win."
Oakland got on the board late in the first half, but it was dicey whether it would complete a drive that would help it avoid the indignity of two straight shutouts for the first time in 25 years, when three straight blankings took place in late September and early October.
Walter had to call all three first-half timeouts in a two-minute span, and he was constantly harassed by a fierce Ravens pass rush. However, he did find Randy Moss (two catches, 32 yards) for 16 yards for Oakland's initial first down, and Ronald Curry gathered in a 22-yard pass on the right sideline to help set up the Raiders in the red zone.
Walter then tried to find Moss in the end zone, but Chris McAlister tipped the ball away and Oakland had to settle for Sebastian Janikowski's 34-yard field goal that cut the lead to 9-3 with 2:59 left in the second quarter.
But McNair answered back by answering yet another question that has hovered over the Ravens offense in recent years.
McNair has not unleashed the strong downfield arm for which he is known in the season's first two weeks, averaging roughly seven yards per attempt. But his tendency so far to play it close to the vest served him well as he led a flawless no-huddle, two-minute drill with no timeouts remaining, taking the Ravens on a 65-yard, seven-play drive that resulted in the game's first touchdown.
However, McNair was not pleased with the offense's inconsistency.
"We took a step back from last week," he said. "We weren't as focused as we should have been."
The drive featured a 30-yard catch-and-run by Musa Smith (24 yards, seven carries; 33 yards, two receptions) and a left-flat pass for Mason that he caught off a fortuitous tip from Heap (five catches, 17 yards), who would eventually gather in a looping one-yard scoring pass down the seam for a 16-3 halftime advantage.
"It was definitely good to get in the end zone," Heap said. "But it was better to get the win. Our defense played unbelievable."
And it cranked up even more in the third quarter. Ray Lewis (seven tackles, INT, QB hit, pass defensed) juggled and picked off an underthrown Walter pass -- his 22nd career regular-season interception, one behind club record holder Ed Reed -- and ran it back 27 yards to the Raiders' 32. Even though Baltimore was forced to punt, Ronnie Prude downed Sam Koch's punt at the Raider 4, one of three punts out of seven downed inside the coffin corner. On third-and-ten, Walter dropped into the end zone to throw, but was sacked for a safety on Thomas' second