Against Broncos, Ravens show they're still tough to beat
Updated: Monday October 01, 2001 7:40 PM
OWINGS MILLS, Md. (AP) -- The swagger is back.
One week after absorbing their first loss in 11 months, the Baltimore Ravens proved Sunday that it's too early to question their ability to repeat as Super Bowl champions.
The Ravens spotted the unbeaten Denver Broncos an early touchdown Sunday, then rebounded to record an uplifting 20-13 victory. Combining a typically solid defensive performance with an offense that finally displayed some balance, Baltimore soared back to the short list of contenders for the AFC crown.
Although the Ravens didn't arrive from Denver until 3:30 a.m. Monday, the players wore smiles and carried an upbeat attitude into the team training complex less than 12 hours later.
It was a stark contrast from one week earlier, when head coach Brian Billick endured a sleepless night and the players were in a daze in the wake of a 21-10 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals.
"Oh, man, it's like night and day, like opposite sides of the globe," running back Obafemi Ayanbadejo said.
"Last week, we were down and out and couldn't wait to get back on the field. Today, we don't want to lose this feeling, especially after playing a team like Denver," he said. "We showed we're the defending champs. Not Tennessee, not Denver. Us."
Billick, noting that Indianapolis and Jacksonville were victimized by upset losses Sunday, said the Ravens are preparing for a season in which just about anything goes.
"This year is going to be about character and chemistry," he said. "It's not going to be about X's and O's, because the talent is pretty equitable from team to team. Who best weathers the storms is going to be the one who ends up standing alone at the end."
The Ravens lost their aura of invincibility at Cincinnati and entered the Denver game as five-point underdogs, but turned in a performance worthy of their stature as defending Super Bowl champions.
After the Broncos converted an interception of Elvis Grbac into a touchdown, Denver got no closer to scoring than the Baltimore 19 and managed only two field goals in the final 59 minutes.
Someone suggested Monday that it was the best performance by the Baltimore defense in two seasons, and Billick concurred.
"When you add up the circumstances of where we were, who we were playing, what we were coming off and that opening 20 seconds, that's probably a fair assessment," he said.
The offense did its share by amassing 333 yards, including 112 from a running game that produced only 118 yards in the first two games. It all added up to a big win on the heels of a disappointing loss.
"It makes you mad because we finally played the way we know we can play, knowing how difficult it is to beat Denver in Colorado," tight end Shannon Sharpe said. "But it's also knowing we can take care of business week in and week out."
About the only flawed aspect of Baltimore's effort was kickoff coverage; Denver gained 165 yards on five returns.
"It was a combination of their aggressiveness and our lack of aggressiveness," Ayanbadejo said. "That, and our getting out of our lanes."
The Ravens would love to spend the week celebrating the victory, but there's another task at hand: Baltimore next faces a Tennessee team coming off a bye and eager to rebound from an 0-2 start.
"The losses linger and linger," Billick said, "but about halfway through the tunnel at Denver, I was thinking about Tennessee."