Posted: Tuesday September 12, 2006 11:14AM; Updated: Tuesday September 12, 2006 1:06PM
Linebacker Ray Lewis led a dominating Ravens defense on Sunday.
That confidence was there from the Ravens' first possession of the season, receiver Derrick Mason said.
"I saw his confidence when he first came out and we were able to chew up almost 10 minutes on the first drive,'' said, Mason, who caught four passes for 50 yards. "You knew that Steve, that old Steve, was there. The way he commanded the huddle, the way he methodically drove us down the field, handing the ball off to Jamal Lewis, throwing it to Todd [Heap], throwing the ball to myself, we were able to get big chunks of yards. When we needed to score in the red zone, he handed the ball off to the big fella in the backfield. He made them pay.''
But let's not bury the lead. McNair wasn't even the story of the day in Tampa. That was the return of Baltimore's defensive dominance. It was Ray Lewis playing like a man possessed again. It was linebacker Bart Scott's two sacks, and Chris McAlister's 60-yard interception return for a touchdown, and rookie defensive tackle Haloti Ngata rumbling for 60 yards with another Chris Simms interception. It was Ed Reed playing like the former NFL Defensive Player of the Year he is, pulling down a third interception of Tampa Bay's befuddled quarterback.
Gone is Baltimore's 11-game road losing streak that began in November 2004. Gone is the malaise that seemed to envelope Lewis during his injury-plagued '05 season, when he appeared to be a disinterested player beginning the downside of his career. And gone, too, is the Ravens' longtime inferiority complex at quarterback, a situation that manifested itself with an us-versus-them vibe in the locker room.
"The thing I look for is the defense's ability to run to the football, stay on their feet and tackle,'' Newsome said. "And that's what they're dong. But even better, they're doing it with more of a team approach. It's not just Ray's defense anymore. It's the Baltimore Ravens' defense, and everybody participates in it.
"I think it's that way now because Ray has the utmost respect for McNair and believes Steve's going to lay it on the line as much as he is. This team has been to a Super Bowl and been to the playoffs. It knows how to win, and it knows what it feels like to lose. I think the maturity that comes with that is going to manifest itself over the course of the season.''
And a turnaround season it could be in Baltimore. Don't look now, but winning at Tampa could be the linchpin of a very strong start to 2006. The Ravens should be favored to win in each of the next three weeks: at home against Oakland, at Cleveland and at home against San Diego. That would set them up at 4-0 for their Monday-night showcase game at Denver in Week 5.
Oh, and one more historical nugget to consider: The only other time in their 11-year history the Ravens have opened a season with a road shutout was 2000, when they went to Pittsburgh and blanked the Steelers 16-0.