Ravens are alive and nasty as ever
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BALTIMORE -- You didn't think the Baltimore Ravens were just going to go away, did you?
I mean, really?
"We ain't going anywhere!" wide receiver Derrick Mason crowed yesterday when someone suggested to him that a lot of people in Pittsburgh -- including those who play for the Steelers -- had been hoping the unbeaten Denver Broncos would do a number on his Ravens, hand them a fourth consecutive defeat and maybe, just maybe, put them down for the count in the AFC North Division fight.
So much for wishful thinking.
Baltimore 30, Denver 7.
"We're still who we are," Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis said with considerable satisfaction afterward.
The Ravens didn't just beat the Broncos almost beyond recognition, getting a huge day from quarterback Joe Flacco (109.2 passer rating), holding the Denver offense to 200 yards and starting the second half with a 95-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by rookie Lardarius Webb. They exposed the Broncos as frauds, making them look more like the winless Tampa Bay Buccaneers than one of the NFL's final three unbeaten teams. They also might have softened them up a bit for the Steelers, who play in Denver next Monday night.
"We just didn't do a whole lot," Broncos quarterback Kyle Orton said.
"None of us showed up," running back Correll Buckhalter said.
"We were outcoached and outplayed, basically, in every phase," rookie coach Josh McDaniels said.
True, true and true.
But that wasn't the big story here.
It was that the Ravens saved their season.
After losing their three previous games to Minnesota, Cincinnati and New England by a total of 11 points, the Ravens would have been in a world of trouble if they hadn't come up big in this one and fallen to 3-4. They must play at Cincinnati Sunday. There are the two games ahead against the Steelers, who have beaten them in four of their past five meetings. There also is a home game with the undefeated Indianapolis Colts and a Monday night contest at Green Bay.
This was as close to must-win as you get on Nov. 1.
"We were dialed in," Webb said. "With our leaders, Ray and Ed [Reed], they stepped up. That's how you know if you've got a strong locker room or a weak locker room. Your leaders have to step up. Our locker room stayed together."
The Broncos must have thought they were in good shape at halftime, down just 6-0. And why not? They had owned the second half in their first six games, outscoring their opponents, 76-10.
But Webb's kickoff return deflated the Broncos big time and, as McDaniels noted, sadly, "probably gave them a lot of energy. The great Lewis -- the face of the Ravens' franchise -- wasn't about to disagree. "Once you're playing from behind, it's going to be a hard time catching up to us."
Orton and his offense weren't up to that challenge. He never seemed to get into the game after Ravens linebacker Jarret Johnson came free and dumped him hard for an 8-yard sack on the first play. The Broncos' 200 yards were their fewest in a game in six years.
But as impressive as the Ravens were defensively, their offense was even more lights-out against a Broncos defense that was ranked No. 2 in the NFL coming in. Flacco -- "Joe Cool," as he is known around here -- completed his final 14 passes to finish 20 for 25, an 80 percent completion rate that matched the Ravens' record. Running back Ray Rice gained 84 of the Ravens' 125 rushing yards as they became the first team to get 100 against the Broncos this season. Mason caught a 20-yard touchdown pass early in the fourth quarter to take what little suspense remained out of the game.
The afternoon's most amazing statistic? That's easy. The Ravens converted 6 of 8 third-down chances in the second half against a defense that had allowed just two third-down conversions in the second half all season, none in the previous four games.
Flacco, who started his college career at Pitt before transferring to Delaware in 2005, was the talk of both locker rooms.
"There's not much give-up in Joe Flacco," McDaniels said, trying to explain his first loss. "He doesn't easily give up on plays."
"He's going to be one of the top two or three quarterbacks in the league," Mason said. "He stays poised. You've got to love that in a quarterback. He stays poised regardless of the situation."
Ravens coach John Harbaugh loved all of it. It's hard to imagine his team playing a more complete game. "Fundamental Ravens football," he called it.
The Ravens aren't dead and buried.
They are alive and doing just fine.
First Published November 2, 2009 12:00 am