- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 19, 2004

Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning will gun for the NFL record for touchdown passes in a season tonight at the RCA Dome, but the Baltimore Ravens’ proud defense represents a substantial hurdle.

Though Manning needs just three more touchdowns to break Dan Marino’s 20-year-old mark of 48, the Ravens are determined not to let it happen against them in a nationally televised game.

Ravens coach Brian Billick said his defense has every intention of making it a hard night for Manning. Containing the Indianapolis star also would qualify as a moral victory for Baltimore.

“With Peyton, [you have to] contain him to a certain degree,” Billick said. “You can’t let him get into a rhythm, because if it turns into a track meet, they’re built for that. Their offense, defense, special teams, being at home, on the turf, they are built for a track meet.”

The Ravens, in the thick of the AFC wild card chase at 8-5, would like to turn tonight’s game into a slugfest and make the AFC South leaders (10-3) work hard for everything they get.

“Those guys are so used to striking fast and not being on the field long. What we want to make them do is go the whole length of the field and try to nickel and dime us the whole way,” Billick said. “We’ll try to make a play and hope they mess up. Across the board, those guys are playing great football. [Manning’s] not making too many bad calls.”

The NFL’s top-rated quarterback (126.3) has completed 288 of 418 passes for 3,919 yards with just nine interceptions. Manning’s favorite target, wide receiver Marvin Harrison, is second in the league among wide receivers with 13 touchdowns.

But the Ravens’ star-studded secondary, which features two Pro Bowl players (safety Ed Reed and cornerback Chris McAlister) and a future Hall of Famer (nickel back Deion Sanders), should provide a stern test for Manning. Reed leads the NFL with eight interceptions.

Asked if that secondary is the best he has faced this season, Manning replied, “It very well could be. I’ve played against all of those guys before, and they’re all excellent cover corners.”

Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis said the key to beating Manning is to confuse him. Manning does a terrific job of changing plays at the line of scrimmage and calls roughly 80 percent of his own plays.

In three career games against the Ravens, Manning has thrown for six touchdowns (three in 1998, two in 2001 and one in 2002). Manning’s quarterback rating against the Ravens is 92.2 — just one-tenth of a percentage point lower than his career rating.

“I think, honestly, if as a defense, you go in trying to stop [Manning getting] that record, you go in with the wrong purpose,” Lewis said. “I think our purpose is to win a football game.”

But the Ravens won’t beat Manning if they don’t put pressure on him. If Manning is allowed time to set up in the pocket, he will slice the Ravens apart with his pinpoint accuracy.

“We need to get to him,” linebacker Terrell Suggs said. “We need to knock him around a bit. … We need to live up to our reputation this weekend.”

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