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Steve McNair was an efficient 17 of 27 for 181 yards and a score. He protected the football well and finished with a QB rating of 94.8. He did miss Todd Heap three times during the afternoon on throws that weren’t very difficult and he over shot Mark Clayton on an easy quick screen toss. That aside, McNair was near perfect on the Ravens opening statement drive and his ability to maintain composure and make plays despite the surrounding chaos is something the Ravens haven’t seen at the position for a very long time. He managed the game extremely well and he involved all of his skill position players during the contest – not an easy assignment against the NFL’s best defense on their home turf.
RUNNING BACK: B
At times it wasn’t pretty and the sledding was tough, particularly when the Bucs brought 8 and sometimes 9 men into the box during obvious running situations. Yet the trio of big backs, Lewis, Anderson and Smith ran hard when called upon and fought for extra yardage while consistently leaning forward. They ran with purpose and intensity knowing that controlling the clock in the Tampa heat was critical to winning the football game. Ovie Mughelli had a nice lead block on Jamal Lewis’ TD run and Justin Green had a key block to spring Lewis on his 27 yard jaunt in the fourth quarter.
Todd Heap had a big one handed catch during the Ravens opening drive on first and 19 to pick up 13 yards and help the Ravens avoid an obvious passing situation, something that has been a huge problem for the club on the road during seasons past. Derrick Mason caught 3 passes on that drive finding soft spots in the Tampa 2 zone. Daniel Wilcox had a key catch to help bail the Ravens out of trouble when facing a third and 10 from their own 6 midway through the third quarter. The 35 yard catch provided a ton of breathing room and helped the Ravens maintain the upper hand in field position while leading 20-0. Wilcox beat the safety to the back line on a 4 yard TD catch a bit later to cap the game’s scoring. Mark Clayton made a nice catch in traffic on a comeback route albeit a tad short. Pressure on McNair forced a shorter than desired throw. Demetrius Williams showed solid hands on a 9 yard catch to help bail McNair out of trouble.
OFFENSIVE LINE: B+
This unit responded extremely well to a healthy dose of criticism through most of the preseason and into the opener. Making the effort even more impressive was the competition they faced – one of the league’s best fronts. Early on Ogden and Mulitalo seemed to have their way with Simeon Rice and Chris Hovan while opening gaping holes along the left side. Perhaps the most telling sign that the offensive line turned in a solid performance lies in the fact that their names were rarely mentioned. McNair was sacked only once and that was really on him, after an attempted pass slipped out of his hands and he was forced to fall on his own fumble. Together Ogden, Mulitalo, Flynn, Vincent and Pashos weathered the storm of criticism and rose to the occasion when the team needed them most. This effort was certainly a confidence booster and it is something for the unit to build on.
DEFENSIVE LINE: B+
Other than Terrell Suggs’ 5 tackles (2 for a loss) and 2 hurries and Haloti Ngata’s interception, this unit was pretty silent. Rex Ryan strategy seemed to be to send the line into the Tampa offensive line hard and eat up blockers to enable Ray Lewis and Bart Scott to wreak havoc on the Bucs’ rushing attack and Cadillac Williams. Clearly there’s was a team effort and it’s difficult not to give a defensive line a solid grade when the opponent rushes for only 26 net yards. That kind of effort will pave the way to a win every time.
Bart Scott was an absolute beast. He had five tackles, three for a loss, 2 sacks, 3 QB hurries and a tipped pass that led to Ngata’s interception. Adalius Thomas was solid in run support and when called upon to cover the tight end. Ray Lewis stayed at home and did not over pursue as he had in the preseason. At times he was caught up in traffic when supporting the run but he was outstanding defending the pass and he certainly exhibited a great burst while sacking Chris Simms for a nine yard loss to end Tampa’s thoughts of mounting a two minute drive towards the end of the first half. Tackling from all LB’s was textbook.
Last season the Ravens secondary dropped many potential game altering interceptions. That wasn’t the case today. When focused, there aren’t many better than Chris McAlister. Against the Bucs he was exactly that and when given a chance to make a play, this time he did and it certainly altered the outcome of the game. Ed Reed made a very athletic play to intercept a Chris Simms pass. Dawan Landry survived a baptism of fire and was not exposed at all in pass coverage and made the tackles when called upon. Samari Rolle was tight in coverage and also tackled well when asked to do so against the much bigger WR Michael Clayton. Holding Joey Galloway to 0 catches should not be taken lightly.
SPECIAL TEAMS: C+
Sam Koch average 47.0 yards on 6 punts with an average net of 35.8. His kick offs on average reached the 5 yard line but the kicks weren’t very high and the Bucs return men averaged 24.5 yards per return, affording Tampa decent starting field position most of the afternoon. Tampa’s average start was there own 33 as opposed to the Ravens who started on average on their own 32 but that was aided greatly by the Haloti Ngata interception which afforded the Ravens a start at the Tampa 9. Special Teams tackling was sound.
Brian Billick had his team ready to play. They were focused, avoided mistakes, played with extreme intensity in hostile and difficult conditions while dominating a very good football team. The offensive and defensive game plans by both coordinators, Jim Fassel and Rex Ryan respectively is certainly deserving of high marks. The only fault found here is in the offense’s inability to deliver a knockout punch earlier in the contest when they had the opportunity.
OTHER NOTABLES AND QUOTABLES:
The Ravens inactives for the afternoon were David Pittman, Derrick Martin, P.J. Daniels, Cory Ross, Chris Chester, Clarence Moore, Aubrayo Franklin and Dan Cody. Cody’s and Chester’s deactivation were a bit puzzling while Daniels and Ross appearance on the list begs the question, “Why are they both on the team?”…The Ravens are now 18-5 in their last 23 games when scoring 21 points or more; 40-10 since Brian Billick has been the head coach…
This from Bucs QB Chris Simms: "They just put it to us. Our defense gave us chances to get back in the game, but I made mistakes and we got a little unlucky. Plain and simple, they just whipped our butts."…More butt whipping: When asked if the missing offensive linemen hurt today, Bucs RT Kenyatta Walker said, "I can’t say it made a difference. We got out butts whipped. That’s the bottom line."… The loss was the first time the Bucs were shut out at Raymond James Stadium, which opened in 1998, and the first time at home since Sept. 29, 1996, in a 27-0 loss to Detroit…."Our goal is always to hold a team to 17 points or under. When an offense runs down and can eat nine minutes off the clock and give us that kind of rest, we only have to play three quarters of football with four quarters of gas in the tank." That’s the Ravens’ Bart Scott…Haloti Ngata on his interception return: "It felt like I was running to Hawaii. It was really far. I was tired. My legs were burning. I’m not used to running that far, but it was fun to see guys out there blocking for me. I was looking for somebody to pitch it to, but nobody wanted the ball."