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OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The tremors from the earthquake in the Gulf of Mexico that shook up the Florida coastline and the ground-denting footsteps of lumbering rookie defensive tackle Haloti Ngata are in the past.
In their aftermath, though, the Baltimore Ravens are undefeated and tied for first place in the AFC North following a dominant 27-0 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Overrating the big-picture impact of one win on the football Richter scale would be a mistake, according to Ravens coach Brian Billick.
“It was a good start, I’m not a golfer, but if you birdie the first hole you’ve pretty much got 17 more to go,” Billick said. “We’ve got the next hole to go to.”
Applying Billick’s golf analogy might be understating his team’s belt-whipping of the defending NFC South champions. It wasn’t a birdie. It was more like a hole-in-one.
The Ravens absolutely wore out the Buccaneers on the opening drive of the game, grinding out a 14-play, 80-yard touchdown march that lasted a staggering 9 minutes and 16 seconds. When asked if this was the Ravens’ top performance since winning the Super Bowl six seasons ago, Billick replied: “It was the most dominating performance we have had this year. That’s about as far as I will go with that.”
Athletic linebackers Ray Lewis, Bart Scott and Adalius Thomas took turns tormenting quarterback Chris Simms and running backs Carnell “Cadillac” Williams and Michael Pittman with a series of hard hits.
The intimidation factor played a major role in holding the Buccaneers to 142 yards of total offense, the sixth-best outing in franchise history. Williams, last year’s NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year, was held to only 22 yards on eight carries.
"You can see where some of our optimism comes from," Billick said. "What that means beyond that, we’ll find out next week with the second game. You enjoy a win on the road.
“There is no sweeter meal than on a plane after a win. They deserve to feel good about themselves. I don’t want to temper that at all, as long as the focus is there Wednesday.”
Plus, the Ravens intercepted Simms three times with the turnovers directly leading to 17 points. Including Ngata’s 60-yard return that exhausted the 6-foot-4, 340-pound first-round draft pick, cornerback Chris McAlister’s 60-yard return for a touchdown and safety Ed Reed’s interception, Baltimore piled up 123 return yards.
Baltimore only committed three penalties and committed no turnovers, a marked contrast to how it underachieved on the road for the past few years. The Ravens don’t appear to be resting on their laurels, though.
“This is one step,” Lewis said. “That’s Ravens football. We’re not claiming anything else.”
Afterward, players didn’t act surprised that they won or boastful with how they confounded Tampa Bay. “They didn’t know what was coming,” Lewis bellowed as he headed into the locker room. “It’s not their fault.”
The only other time Baltimore began the season with a shutout on the road was in 2000, ending the season with a Super Bowl victory after launching the year with a 16-0 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers. However, the Ravens have yet to make Super Bowl allusions or reservations for Miami in February.
"I am just looking for this team to build on what we did and not be satisfied," wide receiver Derrick Mason said. "We need to be able to go out next week and get better."
Billick emphasized that the Ravens were far from perfect, mentioning multiple flaws in their collective performance without pointing out much in the way of specifics beyond the displeasure of special teams coach Frank Gansz.
“They’ll look at the tape and they’ll see very readily there are dozens of things that we can do better, and are going to have to do better, that in a different game might have left us vulnerable," Billick said. “Obviously, they are bright-eyed and feel good about themselves, but we have to correct some of the things that could have cost us the game.”
New franchise quarterback Steve McNair was solid, albeit unspectacular in his management of the game.
Although the three-time Pro Bowl selection completed 63 percent of his passes and hit tight end Daniel Wilcox for a touchdown pass, he short-hopped and overthrew a few passes. Billick said that McNair was his own harshest critic.
“There are some things that Steve will probably tell you that he needs to do a whole lot better, that he didn’t feel as good about because he could have executed a lot better,” Billick said. “There were a couple of things, interestingly, had the exact same game been played by Kyle Boller, there would have been a great deal of commentary as to what it meant.
“No one is more aware of it than Steve. He was very critical of himself, even on the plane going home about the execution.”
The coaching staff reviewed the game film with the players Monday afternoon. Players are off today while the coaches devise a game plan and will return to practice Wednesday to begin preparations for the Oakland Raiders at home next Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium. The Raiders opened the season Monday night against the San Diego Chargers.
“Come 7:30 Wednesday morning, their whole world turns black and silver,” Billick said. “That is the kind of mindset we are trying to set and I think they will be responsive to that.”
Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times in Westminster, Maryland.