Ravens’ defense bullies Rams

Street Talk Ravens’ defense bullies Rams

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BALTIMORE — The barrage never halted, a bullying series of hits that left Gus Frerotte writhing in pain and wondering when the Baltimore Ravens would stop bashing him into the ground.
Between multiple haymakers to the harried quarterback’s jaw and power shots to his ribs to rival a heavyweight boxing match, blows that led to a franchise-record five interceptions, the outcome of the Ravens’ 22-3 victory Sunday over the winless St. Louis Rams at M&T Bank Stadium was never in doubt despite a stumbling offense that needed kicker Matt Stover to tie a club-record with five field goals.
It didn’t seem to affect the Ravens’ fortunes as they won the 100th game in franchise history, including the playoffs, that starting quarterback Steve McNair was held out with a tight back and a lingering groin pull that will probably keep him out next week against the Buffalo Bills, according to Ravens coach Brian Billick.
Backup quarterback Kyle Boller directed a depleted offense that started three rookies on the offensive line, only scoring a dozen points off a team-record six turnovers.
Even though they had just dispatched one of the worst teams in the NFL, one bereft of its starting quarterback, All-Pro left tackle, star running back and three wide receivers, the Ravens (4-2) got a confidence boost as they dominated behind a defense flexing its muscles.
"I think by the time the fourth quarter came around, they were ready to get on their bus," linebacker Bart Scott said. "Perception isn’t reality, but you guys think perception is reality sometimes. We give up some big plays and people think the Ravens’ defense isn’t intimidating, but ask the Cleveland Browns how they felt after playing us.
"The reality is the swagger never left. We’re getting our chemistry back. People have already crowned the Patriots the champions. Let’s see when the dust settles."
Frerotte set a career-high for interceptions and was sacked four times, absorbing blistering hits as St. Louis (0-6) had no answers for the Ravens’ fierce pass rush.
The journeyman backup was pounced on by 6-foot-4, 340-pound defensive tackle Haloti Ngata with hefty nose guard Kelly Gregg, who also had a fumble recovery, landing on him along with backup lineman Justin Bannan and Pro Bowl outside linebacker Terrell Suggs notching his first sack since last Dec. 31, 2006.
"What hurts? You name it," Frerotte said after the Rams dropped to 0-6 for the first time since 1962 when the team was in Los Angeles. "On the last play, I took a shot to the jaw and it felt like I was punched. Earlier in the game, I took a shot to the ribs. What’s happened to us makes me sick."
The Rams were missing quarterback Marc Bulger, offensive tackle Orlando Pace, running back Steven Jackson, wide receiver Isaac Bruce, and several others.
"We knew they was wounded," Suggs said. "We smelled blood and we went after it."
A few times, it didn’t look like Frerotte, who was starting because Bulger was out with broken ribs, was going to get up.
"He took it like a man, I applaud him," Suggs said of Frerotte. "He showed tremendous heart out there. We kept hitting him and he just kept coming back for more."
As did the Ravens’ defensive backs.
They happily benefited from Frerotte gift-wrapping throws, including one interception he short-armed to Pro Bowl cornerback Chris McAlister despite wide receiver Drew Bennett standing several yards behind McAlister for a potential touchdown.
Plus, safety Ed Reed settled under a lazy pop fly where he practically could have called for a fair catch.
"Once they start coming, the interceptions keep coming, the sacks keep coming and it’s a momentum thing,” McAlister said. “Once they got started, there’s really no stopping the train."
Frerotte also tossed interceptions to Corey Ivy, had one deflected into defensive lineman Dwan Edwards’ hands, and gave nickel back Derrick Martin his first NFL interception.
"It was like getting candy," Martin said.
Only it wasn’t Halloween as Frerotte completed just 19 of 36 passes for 208 yards and a putrid 30.6 rating.
Baltimore held Pro Bowl wide receiver Torry Holt to four catches for 33 yards, welcoming cornerback Samari Rolle back after missing three games with an undisclosed illness that briefly hospitalized him.
"We just tried to neutralize them and throw their timing off," Ivy said. "A lot of their game plan is timing, so we threw it off. We knew he was going to give us a chance for some interceptions.”
Frerotte didn’t get any help from the running game, either, as rookie Brian Leonard rushed for 18 yards on 12 carries, averaging 1.5 per carry after gaining over 100 last week. St. Louis rushed for 67 yards on 27 carries for a 2.5 average.
"For our defense, the one wrong thing really is to let us get a lead,” middle linebacker Ray Lewis said. “I think we got after them and carried us.
"Right now, we’re really starting to hit our stride. I don’t care how pretty it is. I don’t care how ugly it is. I think we’re doing the right things to prime  up for November and December."
Although the Ravens’ woeful red-zone offense went 1-for-5 inside the Rams’ 20-yard line, they did break a string of 18 series without a touchdown that dated back to the fourth quarter of a 27-13 loss to the Cleveland Browns. 
With 4:13 remaining in the second quarter, running back Willis McGahee rumbled off the left side behind rookie Ben Grubbs’ lead block for a 6-yard touchdown run that marks his first on the ground since joining the team in an offseason trade.
The score gave Baltimore a 13-0 halftime lead.
"I’m happy, everybody’s happy," said McGahee, who rushed for just 61 yards on 25 carries. "We finally scored in the red zone."
This is the Ravens’ first victory by more than seven points this season.
Boller completed 18 of 30 passes for 184 yards, no touchdowns and one interception, as the Ravens kept stalling.
"We have a lot of things to work on," Boller said. "Everything can be corrected. I missed some shots and we have a young offensive line out there, too. Our defense played unbelievably.”
By halftime, St. Louis had two turnovers, four first downs and 83 yards of total offense with Frerotte sacked three times and intercepted twice.
Even though the offense didn’t capitalize fully on the turnovers, Stover kept booting them through the uprights.
"Busy day, very busy day," Stover said. "I think you guys remember back in the Super Bowl season when we won however we could."
Despite just two touchdowns in the past dozen quarters, the Ravens struck a confident stance that they can continue winning with a familiar formula.
That is, if there’s a semblance of an offense and a lead.
“It’s almost humanly impossible to deal with our defense after that,” Lewis said. “It’s going to be a long time before you come back on us like that. The way we’re playing defense that isn’t going to happen.”
Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.

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Aaron Wilson

About Aaron Wilson

Aaron Wilson covers the NFL for National Football Post as well as the Baltimore Ravens for The Carroll County Times and Ravens24x7.com. He has previously covered the Jacksonville Jaguars and Tennessee Titans and has covered the NFL since 1997.  He has won several regional writing awards, including, most recently, Best Sports News Story for the state of Maryland in voting conducted by the Associated Press managing editors.  More from Aaron Wilson


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