- The Washington Times - Monday, January 29, 2001

ANALYSIS

TAMPA, Fla. They are simply the greatest defense ever.

The Baltimore Ravens may have to wait for history's final verdict, but they made a convincing argument last night with a dominating 34-7 victory of the New York Giants in Super Bowl XXXV at Raymond James Stadium.

Last night's performance pushed aside the Pittsburgh Steelers' famed 1976 "Steel Curtain" defense, widely acknowledged as the greatest unit to play the game.

Critics wondered what the Ravens defense would do on the game's biggest stage and Baltimore answered loudly. The only points the Giants were able to generate came on a 97-yard, third-quarter kickoff return by Ron Dixon.

"I'm biased, but who cares?" Ravens coach Brian Billick said of his defense. "Somebody tell me they're not [the best ever]. I don't think anybody has a sure-fire way to attack this defense. It's too athletic, it's too physical, and unless you've played it, you can't fully appreciate what it is to play them. You've got to play them before you can fully respect what they can do."

The Ravens intercepted Kerry Collins four times and tied the Super Bowl record. And Duane Starks, the Ravens third-year cornerback, returned a poorly thrown Collins pass 49 yards for a touchdown with 3:49 left in the third quarter and gave the Ravens a commanding 17-0 lead.

"The thing is, I gave [Collins] a few passes early to bait him into throwing it again," Starks said of his touchdown. "I played soft and I took my chance when I knew I had a great shot to do it. And, hey, it's going to cost them."

The Ravens' swarming defense seemed to destroy Collins' will and his confidence. The Ravens made Collins, who passed for an unbelievable 381 yards and five touchdowns in a 41-0 victory over the Minnesota Vikings in the NFC Championship game, look like a confused rookie.

The Giants couldn't have possibly predicted what befell them yesterday, namely Ray Lewis, the NFL's Defensive Player of the Year. Lewis was a one-man wrecking crew and intimidated the Giants every step of the way.

Lewis, 25, set the tone for the game during pre-game introductions. When Lewis' name was announced, he knelt down and picked up some grass, rubbed it on his jersey, and broke into a funky dance. Lewis made it clear he was ready for battle.

In the first half alone, Lewis had three tackles, two pass breaks and tipped a Collins pass that led to a Jamie Sharper interception. Lewis was named Super Bowl MVP, but wasn't asked to do the obligatory "I'm going to Disney World" commercial.

Disney may not want Lewis, but the Ravens, and undoubtedly every other NFL team, will certainly take him.

Lewis was the second linebacker ever to be named Super Bowl MVP and just the seventh defensive player to earn the honor in the history of the Super Bowl.

"It was amazing the way we came out," Lewis said. "I mean it was incredible to see the way we came out and played as a team. This defense has been doing this all year and never, never got the credit. This win is something they can't take away from us. We are the best ever."

Lewis was a sideline-to-sideline, ball-seeking missile. Collins, the highest-rated (110.3) quarterback of the postseason looked more like Lou Brock meekly sliding every time he left the pocket for fear that Lewis would punish him.

With the threat of Lewis around every corner, Collins played scared and wasn't the confident quarterback he was two weeks ago.

Rob Burnett, the Ravens left end, sacked Collins in the first quarter for a five-yard loss. Reserve defensive end Keith Washington sacked Collins in the second quarter. And Michael McCrary nailed Collins for an eight-yard loss in the third quarter.

The Giants either didn't do their homework or didn't respect the Ravens defense. This season the Ravens set NFL records for fewest points allowed (165) and rushing yards allowed (970) during a 16-game season.

The Ravens gave up 23 points in the postseason on three field goals, one touchdown and yesterday's special teams breakdown.

The Ravens have not permitted a 100-yard rusher in their last 37 games the longest current streak in the NFL. The Giants could muster only 66 rushing yards. Tiki Barber, the Giants feature back, carried 11 times for 49 yards. Collins, when he wasn't throwing interceptions, ran three times for 12 yards. Reserve Joe Montgomery carried twice for five yards.

This was as decisive and dominant as it gets. The Giants generated only 149 yards of total offense. Giants punter Brad Maynard was forced to punt 11 times another Super Bowl record.

The Ravens defense, which boasts an NFL-high three Pro Bowl starters Lewis, defensive tackle Sam Adams and safety Rod Woodson overwhelmed the Giants.

"Baltimore played strong, we knew they had an outstanding defense coming into the game," said Giants coach Jim Fassel."


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