The defense rests
Ravens' legendary unit shuts down Raiders' running game
Updated: Sunday January 14, 2001 10:18 PM
OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) -- The best defense ever.
The Baltimore Ravens put up ample numbers to support that label during the regular season, yet many critics said the team needed to win a title to support such a lofty claim.
Make way for the AFC champions, who Sunday kept their amazing season alive by parlaying another outstanding performance by the defense into an improbable trip to the Super Bowl.
Baltimore held the Oakland Raiders to one first down in the decisive first half and snuffed the league's top running game throughout the afternoon in a 16-3 victory.
Although the Ravens set an NFL record for fewest points (165) and fewest yards rushing (970) allowed in a 16-game season, the accomplishment might have only been a footnote had the defense not come up with a similar performance in the playoffs.
"The best I ever saw, and I've seen an awful lot," said Ravens owner Art Modell, who is finally going to his first Super Bowl. "Forget the statistics. I've been an owner for 40 years and 25 years as a spectator, as a Giants season-ticket holder. I've seen them all, and this is the best defense I've ever seen and without a question the best middle linebacker to ever play the game."
The Ravens (15-4), who never had a winning season before this year, defeated the top two seeded teams on the road and has outscored the opposition 61-16 in the postseason.
Asked if this is the best defensive unit in NFL history, Lewis said, "I think the numbers speak for themselves."
Baltimore won its 10th in a row, dispatching the Raiders by using the same formula it used all season: Rely on the defense to choke the opposition and make sure the offense doesn't do anything disastrous.
"You get the feel of having controlled the game defensively," head coach Brian Billick said. "I've been in the league 10 years, and I've never seen a defense like it. Until you've played this defense, the speed and athleticism, you can't appreciate it."
The Ravens committed two turnovers, but the defense made sure they wouldn't be costly. After Trent Dilfer threw an interception in the third quarter, Oakland moved 38 yards for a first-and-goal at the 2. Tyrone Wheatley lost a yard on first down, quarterback Rich Gannon lost three more on a rollout, and an incomplete pass set up a field goal that only got the Raiders within 10-3.
That proved to be the extent of the Oakland offense, which ranked third overall and first in yards rushing over the regular season. As the game neared its conclusion, the once-vociferous sellout crowd became as silent as the Raiders' sputtering offense.
Wheatley finished with seven yards on 12 carries and the Raiders could muster on 24 yards rushing.
While Lewis was performing with his usual agility, alternatingly filling a hole on the line or providing tight coverage in the flat, arguably the biggest play was turned in by the largest member of the unit.
Tackle Tony Siragusa, a 350-pounder who has the body of the Pillsbury Doughboy, collapsed on Gannon early in the second quarter with Baltimore nursing a 7-0 lead. That sent Gannon from the game and brought in backup Bobby Hoying.
Two plays later, Hoying threw an interception that enabled the Ravens to get a field goal from Matt Stover for a 10-0 lead.
"Not to be boastful, but it didn't matter what quarterback was in the game. It would never change the attitude of our defense," Lewis said.
"You have to realize," tight end Shannon Sharpe said of Gannon, "that he wasn't putting up [Joe] Montana numbers when he was in there."