- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 9, 2001

OWINGS MILLS, Md. Take notice NFL, things are coming together for the Baltimore Ravens.

After impressive back-to-back wins over Super Bowl contenders, the Ravens' offense appears balanced and their record-setting defense from a year ago hasn't missed a beat.

It's not a good scenario for the rest of the AFC. The Ravens are developing an aura of invincibility in just four games and should be Las Vegas' best bet to be playing in New Orleans on Feb. 3.

Call it Super Bowl swagger: anybody, anyplace, anytime, anywhere.

"I definitely believe that because that's the attitude we have," said defensive end Michael McCrary, who registered two sacks in Sunday's 26-7 annihilation of division rival Tennessee. "We're the defending champs, we have a reason to act like that."

Coach Brian Billick said the blueprint started in the offseason and training camp. Priority No. 1: Keep the defense intact a unit that established NFL records for fewest points (165) and rushing yards allowed (970) during a 16-game season.

Mission accomplished. So far this season, the Ravens have allowed 47 points, and are on pace to allow 188 points, which would be the third-best of all time. The 47 points after four games is lower than last season's total of 55 points at the same stage of the season.

Five touchdowns have been scored against the Ravens this season, and two came on an interception return by Cincinnati's Takeo Spikes and a returned blocked punt for a score by the Titans.

That leaves three touchdowns given up by the defense. All three were set up by turnovers by the Ravens' offense the average start on those drives was the Ravens' 18, accounting for just 54 yards.

The longest TD drive this season against the Ravens started at their 33 when rookie tight end Todd Heap fumbled against the Bengals in a 21-10 loss. No team has driven 70 or 80 yards on the Ravens' defense this season and scored a touchdown.

"I think it's almost an impossible task when our defense is playing on all four cylinders and everybody is executing their assignments," said cornerback Chris McAlister. "I don't think a team can go 80 yards."

The players feel this season's defense is as good, if not better, than last year's, a defense some consider the best of all time. Going into Sunday's game at Green Bay (3-1), the Ravens (3-1) own the league's top-rated defense, allowing 201.3 yards a game.

"It's definitely possible because you can look at the film and see a lot of areas that we can get better and better," outside linebacker Peter Boulware said. "Until a team gets zero yards, then you can say that you can't get better."

Coming into this season, the Ravens felt they were more than capable of running the ball with Jamal Lewis, a 1,364-yard rusher from last season. Disaster struck in training camp when Lewis blew out his left knee. That significant blow has not dissuaded the Ravens from trying to run the ball, even with 33-year-old veteran Terry Allen.

In Sunday's win, Allen rushed for a season-high 108 yards on 22 carries. For the game, the Ravens rushed for 207 yards the fourth-best rushing game in team history. After Week 2, the Ravens had the NFL's 29th-rated rushing attack out of 31 teams. Since then, the Ravens have risen to 16th and look to be steadily climbing.

The arrival of strong-armed quarterback Elvis Grbac has transformed the Ravens passing game into a vertical arsenal. Grbac, who was signed to a five-year, $30 million deal March 6, has been a godsend to the offensive-minded Billick.

Grbac, who has passed for 1,068 yards with five TDs this season, said the reason he signed with the Ravens is because of Billick's wide-open offense. Grbac's 1,068 yards is second in the NFL behind Minnesota quarterback Daunte Culpepper's 1,123, and Grbac has completed 57.8 percent of his passes. Grbac, a nine-year veteran, needs only 191 yards this Sunday for 15,000 in his career.

"That's why I came here, having coach Billick and [offensive coordinator] Matt Cavanaugh to work with," Grbac said. "I worked under a defensive regime the last couple of years and you can see it in Washington now."

Note Ravens wide receiver Patrick Johnson will be out six to eight weeks with a fractured clavicle. Johnson injured himself in the third quarter of Sunday's win over the Titans. For now, the plan is to sit Johnson and not place him on the injured reserve list. The Ravens believe Johnson can return around Dec. 9, their bye week, with four regular season games remaining.

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