- The Washington Times - Friday, December 5, 2003

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Baltimore Ravens can thank their opportunistic defense and strong special teams play for their two-game winning streak. So what else is new?

The anemic offense can’t take credit for back-to-back 44-point explosions the past two weeks. After all, it was the defense and special teams that gave the offense outstanding field position and also helped by scoring 12 of those 88 points.

In last week’s 44-6 rout of the San Francisco 49ers — the most lopsided win in franchise history — the Ravens’ average starting field position was its 47. Four interceptions, including one linebacker Ray Lewis returned for a score, and Lamont Brightful’s 75-yard kickoff return helped account for that field position.

“Of course it makes it easier,” Ravens quarterback Anthony Wright said. “In past times, [the defense was] giving us great field position, and we were coming away with no points. It just shows you how much this offense has grown. Our defense is going to do the things that they do, continue to give us great field position, continue to make the other offense turn the ball over, and once they do things like that it becomes our job to score points. Now, we’re starting to turn those possessions into points.”

In tomorrow’s AFC North showdown against the Cincinnati Bengals at M&T; Bank Stadium, the Ravens defense is going against a quarterback who seldom turns over the ball. Jon Kitna has 19 touchdowns and just four interceptions in the Bengals’ last nine games, and Cincinnati has gone 7-2. The Bengals, like the Ravens, are 7-5 overall.

Kitna is averaging 20.3 completions a game and is the AFC’s fifth-rated quarterback with a passer rating of 91.2. He has 22 touchdown passes — second in the AFC, one behind Peyton Manning — and has just nine interceptions.

“I think he is being more prudent with the ball,” Ravens coach Brian Billick said. “He’s not turning the ball over. Part of it might be [that] when you’re out of it and not a playoff team and just trying to survive, it’s, ‘Hey, let it go. What am I going to do, lose another game?’ Now, there’s consequences, and he’s proving to be very smart with the ball. He’s throwing it away more readily. He’s actually making more plays with his legs. He’s running around a little bit more, particularly on third down.”

It’s premature to say the Ravens offense has arrived. The team still owns the NFL’s lowest-rated passing attack (143.4 yards a game) but the second-best rushing game (158.2 yards).

“We are trying to work things out and correct mistakes that we made last week,” said Ravens running back Jamal Lewis, who is the NFL’s leading rusher (1,442 yards). “Even though we scored a lot of points, we made mistakes. We have to put everything together and correct those [mistakes].”

Two weeks ago in the Ravens’ 44-41 overtime victory against the Seattle Seahawks, a fourth-and-inches stand by the Baltimore defense with 44 seconds remaining enabled the offense to move quickly into field-goal range and send the game into overtime.

The past two games gave the Ravens’ defense confidence in their offense. Ray Lewis and Co. now know Wright and Co. can score once they get the ball in the opponent’s end of the field.

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