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OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Stricken for years by an anemic offense and at least partially defanged on defense, the Baltimore Ravens have regained their bite by reclaiming their old smash-mouth brand of football.
Whether it was bruising running back Jamal Lewis ricocheting off linebackers, massive offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden throttling defenders or middle linebacker Ray Lewis flexing his muscles, the Ravens looked like a contender last week.
Baltimore unleashed a series of body blows last Sunday in Tampa Bay to set up a knockout punch.
One week removed from an impressive shutout that boosted the Ravens’ status in league circles, the challenge shifts in today’s home opener against the beleaguered Oakland Raiders at M&T Bank Stadium. The Ravens are looking to replicate that bare-knuckled display.
“That’s how we should always play football: by pushing people around,” Ogden said. “That’s basically who we are. We’re a big team with big guys that like to throw their weight around.
“Why overcomplicate things by being cute or trying to trick people? Just knock somebody down, then do it again. It usually works.”
The Ravens (1-0) hope that they immediately set the tone for their season during a 27-0 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers with a relentless 14-play, 80-yard opening drive that lasted 9 minutes and 16 seconds. Punctuated by Lewis’ short touchdown run, the oft-criticized offensive line opened gaping holes to run through and provided more than adequate protection for quarterback Steve McNair.
“I think the offensive line took on the challenge of what everyone was saying about them,” said Lewis, who is four yards shy of becoming the franchise’s all-time leader in all-purpose yardage. “They made the holes and I ran through them, me and the other running backs.
“Guys were saying, ‘Let’s go, let’s keep it going, let’s put the ball in the end zone.’ So, that was a great feeling and hopefully we’ll have many more.”
Although Baltimore finished with only 103 rushing yards and McNair was far from spectacular, the offense managed the game well enough to keep the defense fresh. Plus, there were no turnovers.
And the defense responded by allowing only 26 rushing yards and intercepting three passes to directly lead to 17 points. Now, the key is moving on mentally after a week of hearty praise and back-slapping.
“Last week doesn’t mean anything if we go out and lose,” McNair said. “We have to stay focused. We forgot about the one last week.
“We have to prepare like this is the opener again. I don’t think the mental letdown will happen.”
With Oakland coming off an ugly 27-0 loss to the San Diego Chargers defined by allowing nine sacks and LaDainian Tomlinson’s 131 rushing yards, the Ravens have been guarding against overconfidence.
They have been adamant in stressing that it’s an unlikely scenario for them to become the first NFL team to post consecutive shutouts since they did it in 2000. The Ravens posted four shutouts that season.
“I’ve been around too long and I have too many Pro Bowls and too many Super Bowls to fall for, ‘Hey, you’re all doing great,’” defensive end Trevor Pryce said. “This is Week 1, and that thing is over. They are professionals who get paid a lot of money. We’re not playing a college team.”
Still, Oakland was pretty much pathetic as starting running back Lamont Jordan gained only 20 yards on 10 carries and fumbled. Plus, quarterback Aaron Brooks completed only six passes for 68 yards.
Is another shutout on the horizon? Could this defense approach the stratosphere of the 2000 edition?
”To come out and say you’re going to shut out anybody after that one is ridiculous,” said cornerback Chris McAlister, who’s expected to be matched opposite perennial All-Pro wide receiver Randy Moss. “I think it set a tempo for our team and I think the expectations are through the roof, but it’s something we’re more than capable of living up to.
“It’s always nice to get a shutout and it’s easy to jump immediately and say, ‘They can be better than the 2000 team,’ but we still have to take it week by week and see how it goes.”
The Ravens’ defense had seven drives last week where they didn’t allow a first down and limited the Buccaneers to 142 total yards. Meanwhile, the Raiders only crossed the Chargers’ 50-yard line once in generating 129 total yards.
Another one-sided game could be in the offing for the Ravens, who have been installed as a 12-point favorite for the biggest line on any of this weekend’s NFL games.
Besides their bad play in the midst of a seven-game losing streak, the Raiders are contending with internal issues centered on disgruntled receivers Jerry Porter and Moss.
“This is a brutal league,” linebacker Bart Scott said. “Whenever there is blood in the water, the sharks will feast. They are bleeding a little bit right now. They have a deep hurt. They are going to come here with an us-against-the-world philosophy.”
Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times in Westminster, Maryland.