Well, no educated guess could have predicted fullback Alan Ricard alertly scooping up a Jamal Lewis fumble that took an ideal bounce to dash untouched 50 yards for a touchdown in the final minutes of the first quarter. In a 24-10 victory over San Diego at Qualcomm Stadium, the Ravens (2-1) maintained their focus after McAlister was benched for reportedly missing curfew to earn a share of first place in the AFC North. The win gives them their first winning record since the 2001 campaign. "It shows what kind of chemistry we have," Lewis said. "We did great. I'm ready to get up out of San Diego. There's nothing ugly about this win."
The Ravens won after departing Maryland on Wednesday to ensure they would be able to beat the weather patterns of Isabel. The coaching staff kept the players on East Coast time with dawn wakeup calls and established a 9 p.m. curfew that was apparently followed by almost everyone. "You can't imagine how big a win that was, to do what we did the way we had to do it," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "If we had lost that game you would have shoved coming out here early up my butt for a month. .. Yes, that was the smart thing to do."
Besides containing the Chargers' dangerous tandem of Pro Bowl running back LaDainian Tomlinson and imposing wideout David Boston, Baltimore leaned heavily on Lewis' brawny shoulders. The NFL's rushing leader pounded San Diego (0-3) for 132 yards and a touchdown one week after breaking the NFL single-game mark with 295 yards. Yet, it was Lewis' bodyguard who got the Ravens' day started. "It was a perfect bounce," Ricard said. "It came right to me just like a ground ball. I was thinking don't let them catch me. I was running pretty fast. "I'm glad we're going back to Baltimore. I'm kind of tired of San Diego." Lewis quickly shifted from the disappointment of fumbling to the joy of watching Ricard ramble down the field in the California sun. "Luckily, he had my back. I jumped up like the play was called for him," Lewis said. "As far as the run, I didn't know the big dude could run like that."
Rookie quarterback Kyle Boller lent some balance to the offense even though his statistics were far from glowing. He delivered the football with more confidence and generally demonstrated more command of the offense. Boller completed 12 of his 21 passes for 98 yards, one touchdown and a quarterback rating of 65.2. His only interception was caused by tight end Todd Heap bobbling a pass into Jerry Wilson's hands. "I told myself that I was just going to throw the ball this week and not aim it and not be so perfect," said Boller, who estimated a contingent of 200 to 300 family and friends from the Los Angeles area in attendance. "I felt comfortable right from the start of the game." Plus, a defense led by linebacker Ray Lewis did its job.
Even though he rushed for 105 yards, Tomlinson only scored once. The Ravens' secondary responded to McAlister's absence and kept the sculpted, 240-pound Boston from making much of an impact. His six receptions for 91 yards were mostly cosmetic. He signed a $47 million contract this spring instead of coming to Baltimore. "Hey, man Gold's Gym is down the street and he needs to go there and lose some of that weight so he can get back to what he was in Arizona," Ravens cornerback Corey Fuller said. "The man's not giving them what they want out here, not for all the money they're paying him."
When Heap sold a post pattern to Chargers cornerback Quentin Jammer in the third quarter and raced toward the corner of the end zone, Boller tossed it high enough for Heap to corral the touchdown. "I gave him a little jab inside and it worked," Heap said. "Kyle made a great throw. It was a big game for Kyle's confidence. "He just went out and fired it like he's capable of doing. Now that we know what he can do, it's only time for him to get better." That touchdown gave the Ravens a 17-3 lead in the third quarter and provided the insurance they needed to hold San Diego off. Lewis added a score on a short touchdown run set up by rookie outside linebacker Terrell Suggs' interception to push the advantage to 21 points.
In the fourth quarter, Ed Reed intercepted Brees deep in Baltimore territory. Gary Baxter, who moved from free safety to replace McAlister with Will Demps playing in Baxter's normal spot, intercepted a deep Brees pass intended for Boston on the Chargers' final possession. The Ravens didn't allow the anger and disappointment several players expressed about McAlister's situation to distract them from the job at hand: winning a football game. "That didn't distract us," Lewis said. "I think it made us stronger."
Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times.