Defense never rests

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BALTIMORE | For all the attention their change of coaching staffs and quarterbacks has drawn, the Baltimore Ravens have enjoyed stability in one facet that outweighs all else.

They still have one of the NFL’s most dominant defenses - and that’s why they control their playoff fate. That defense was on impressive display Sunday night in Baltimore’s 24-10 thrashing of the fast-fading Washington Redskins.

The Ravens, owners of the league’s second-ranked unit, put forth another stifling effort, holding the Redskins to 254 total yards and producing 14 points off turnovers. This was nothing new for a Baltimore defense that has been carrying this franchise for nearly a decade. The names of the coach (John Harbaugh) and quarterback (Joe Flacco) may be new, but the pertinent heroes on defense remain the same.

Ray Lewis. Ed Reed. Terrell Suggs.

And because of them, the results remain the same. For the 15th time since 2006, the Ravens held their opponent to 10 or fewer points. They have won all 15 of those games.

Longtime coordinator Rex Ryan’s unit seized control from the beginning. On the evening’s third play from scrimmage, Suggs hit Redskins quarterback Jason Campbell as he released a pass, then watched as Reed intercepted it at the Baltimore 45. Five plays later, Le’Ron McClain scampered 8 yards for the game’s first touchdown.

Barely three minutes after that, Reed made another spectacular play, knocking the ball loose from running back Clinton Portis, then scooping it up and racing 22 yards for a touchdown. It was the Ravens’ sixth defensive score of the season, tops in the NFL. Reed has accounted for three of those.

“I was trying to rip it loose,” Reed said of the play. “I was going for it a little bit, and it came out.”

Harbaugh raved about his veteran playmaker.

“It goes beyond his ability to make plays,” Harbaugh said. “He’s playing with tremendous discipline. He understands the offense he’s playing against. He’s been in position to make every single play for a lot of plays in a row. He’s just a great football player.”

Those kinds of performances win games, even when an offense isn’t clicking on all cylinders - as was the case in this one. The Redskins did make it interesting late, scoring 10 fourth-quarter points to draw within seven. They did so by producing the first touchdown against the Ravens’ defense in 13 quarters and 47 possessions.

No matter. Baltimore came through when it needed to, getting a touchdown pass from Flacco to Derrick Mason to extend its lead back to 14.

Baltimore’s seventh win in eight games puts it at 9-4, in control of one of the AFC’s two wild card berths and with a chance to catch the North division-leading Pittsburgh Steelers next week.

“I’m so impressed with where we are right now as a football team,” Harbaugh said. “The ups, the downs - you just keep competing and keep punching, and you believe you’re going to win that football game.”

If the Ravens do reach the playoffs for the fifth time in nine years, Flacco and Harbaugh will get much of the credit. Fans in Baltimore know the real reason: The NFL’s premier defense of the past decade remains at the top of its game.

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