Ravens' secondary performs well with McAlister out

SAN DIEGO - Starting cornerback Chris McAlister was absent from the Baltimore Ravens' secondary Sunday after being benched for violating team rules. The team's franchise player reportedly showed up late for curfew and skipped a team meeting earlier this week. So, he wasn't allowed on the sideline for Sunday's 24-10 win over the San Diego Chargers.

He's supposed to meet with Ravens coach Brian Billick today to discuss a situation that has angered and disappointed teammates, coaches and team officials.

Even without McAlister, the Ravens' pass coverage was present and accounted for. "It's a terrible thing that happened," said Gary Baxter, McAlister's replacement. "We stayed together as a unit. It kind of hurt us overall, but we did what we had to do."

The Ravens intercepted Chargers quarterback Drew Brees three times and limited him to 270 yards despite firing the football downfield 45 times. His quarterback rating was a paltry 51.2. Blue-chip wideout David Boston caught six passes for 91 yards, but never scored.

Safety Ed Reed intercepted a Brees pass in the fourth quarter and returned it 27 yards. Reed said McAlister's presence was missed, though. "I think we did real good and we definitely wish he could have been here and we'll be damn glad to get him back," Reed said.

Baxter's ability to shift back to cornerback from free safety in McAlister's absence was a key factor. He allowed a 40-yard reception in the first half to Boston before settling down. "I felt comfortable going into the game, but I kind of started out rusty," said Baxter, who collected eight tackles with three pass deflections and an interception. "I just had to calm down then I kind of got back into the groove. "I figured they would come at me a couple of times. I think I held my ground pretty good. I give myself a B-plus."

This isn't McAlister's first brush with authority. The former first-round draft pick was pulled over for speeding and charged with driving under the influence last month in Virginia. A possession of marijuana charge was dropped a few years ago for lack of evidence.

McAlister is being paid $5.962 million this season.

Asked if he was mad at McAlister, Reed said, "Yeah, because you don't want a guy to miss out on a game when it's a group thing."

Although Reed said McAlister didn't owe his teammates an apology, he did say there has to be a level of accountability. "It shows we can win ball games without him, but at the same time we were hurt without him," Reed said. "We would much rather have him here. "As a man, he has to correct what he has to correct, get it corrected upstairs in regards to this. Hopefully, it will get corrected. I'm praying for him."

Veteran cornerback Corey Fuller said he spoke briefly with McAlister, who was at the team hotel Saturday and unsuccessfully pleaded his case to be allowed to attend the game. Fuller said he will remain supportive of his teammate. "We're all family in here and families stick together," Fuller said. "We got to work through it."

Meanwhile, offensive tackle Orlando Brown said it's up to Billick to primarily handle this issue, not the team. "I just want to see everyone do the right thing," Brown said. "I'm still mad. I got some words, but I will let coach handle it."

WEARING THEM DOWN: Ravens running back Jamal Lewis noticed a major difference in the Chargers defense as he bulled ahead for a game-high 132 yards. "I think that they were mostly going off hype at first and we kept hitting them and we knocked the back out of them," Lewis said.

Lewis pushed Baltimore's lead to 24-3 with a 7-yard touchdown run late in the third quarter. Asked what effect he thought the score had, Lewis said: "They were done. They stopped getting penetration, stopped coming off the ball. It showed they are not a good second-half team."

SUGGS NOT SATISFIED: Even after grabbing his third sack in three NFL games and corralling his first career interception to set up a Lewis score, Ravens rookie outside linebacker Terrell Suggs wasn't exactly thrilled with himself. The first-round draft pick wants to forge a larger role beyond playing rush end in obvious passing situations. "I still think I'm underachieving," said Suggs, the 10th overall pick of the draft. "I'm still not helping my team as much as I could. I've got to work on being an every-down guy. "I've got to learn my coverages. On this defense, everybody has a certain job that they got to do. I can't be the weak link."

INJURY UPDATE/INACTIVES: Besides McAlister, the Ravens' inactives included: left offensive guard Edwin Mulitalo (knee, ankle), safety Gerome Sapp (knee), running back Musa Smith (knee), fullback Harold Morrow (elbow) and defensive linemen Joe Salave'a and Aubrayo Franklin.

Casey Rabach started at left guard. Reed suffered a thigh contusion.

BROWN PLAYS DEFENSE: Orlando Brown lined up at nose guard for one play in the second half. He said he hadn't played on defense since his senior year at South Carolina State. Asked if a "Zeus formation" with him playing fullback might be in the cards, as published reports have suggested, Brown said: "I heard they might put me on goal-line. I don't know what they will call it."

Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times.

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