- The Washington Times - Friday, August 13, 2004

BALTIMORE — With their preseason opener taking place in steady rain, it was tough to get a read on the Baltimore Ravens.

This much is certain: The offense was sluggish, the defense played great and the knack of making the big play is the team’s modus operandi.

Sounds like the same old Ravens.

The Ravens’ dominant defense pitched a shutout and added a touchdown on a 49-yard interception. Unheralded tight end Daniel Wilcox caught two touchdown passes to lead the Ravens to a 24-0 blanking of the Atlanta Falcons before a record 69,299 last night at M&T; Bank Stadium.

“Any time you can shut a team out, I don’t care if it’s preseason, you’ve got to feel good about it,” Ravens coach Brian Billick said. “I just told the guys they need to enjoy the win. We’ll pick it apart on Saturday — in minute detail because there’s a lot to pick apart. There’s enough things in there to get you beat four and five times. But 24-0, we’ll take it.”

Running back Jamal Lewis and the Ravens’ first-team offense needed extended time to move the ball against the Falcons’ swarming defense.

The Ravens went three-and-out on their opening possession as quarterback Kyle Boller ran on every down, including a third-down sack by Falcons cornerback Kevin Mathis.

“I had some happy feet the first couple of series and then settled down,” said Boller, who completed five of nine passes for 56 yards, one touchdown and a 111.3 passer rating.

On Baltimore’s second possession, Lewis carried the ball twice for minus-seven yards. Boller completed two of three passes for 14 yards, but the offense went backward with a false start penalty on right tackle Ethan Brooks, who started in place of Orlando Brown, and a 7-yard Lewis loss.

With his offense generating just five total yards on two possessions, Billick sent his first-team offense back out to open the second quarter and they finally responded. The Ravens drove 95 yards in 6:58, capping the possession with a 12-yard scoring strike from Boller to Wilcox that gave the Ravens a 7-0 lead.

“We have a lot of experience and that is huge for us,” said Lewis, whose court date was set yesterday for Nov.1 in Atlanta to answer to federal drug charges. “A lot of these guys know what we have to do. We made the playoffs last year and now we have motivation to go even further.”

Lewis, who rushed for the second-best season in NFL history last year gaining 2,066 yards, carried the ball six times for 14 yards.

Meanwhile, new Atlanta coach Jim Mora Jr. wasn’t going to risk the Falcons’ season in a meaningless preseason game. Michael Vick, the Falcons’ human highlight film quarterback, played only three downs last night, including a sack by Will Demps.

Last year in a preseason game between these teams, Atlanta’s season all but ended when Ravens backup linebacker Adalius Thomas broke Vick’s right leg on a scramble; the Falcons crashed to a 5-11 season.

“It was hard to judge my performance on just three plays,” Vick said. “As the preseason goes on, I’ll play a little bit more. I’ve worked hard to study this offense. I talked to Steve Young and he told me that one of the keys is watching a lot of tape, and I’ve done that. I think this offense fits me, but not just me — also all the other players on offense. I may not be playing right now, but I’m studying it as the game progresses.”

The Ravens opportunistic defense added a touchdown just before halftime when newly-acquired cornerback Fred Weary intercepted Matt Schaub’s deflected pass intended for wide receiver Michael Jenkins and returned it 49 yards with 1:45 left before intermission.

Kordell Stewart, the Ravens’ veteran backup quarterback, engineered a 10-play, 74-yard penalty-aided, third-quarter drive that put the Ravens up 21-0 on a Stewart-to-Wilcox 10-yard touchdown pass.

Ravens kicker Matt Stover added a 38-yard field goal in the third quarter that made it 24-0. Stover’s field goal was set up when backup wide receiver Todd Devoe recovered a Willie Quinnie muff at the Falcons 19.

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