Ravens silence Blake with dominant performance

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Emerging triumphant from a sauna of a football game, the Baltimore Ravens silenced the outspoken quarterback they exiled last spring after negotiations reached an impasse. Before strutting out of the desert with a 26-18 victory over the woeful Arizona Cardinals on Sunday, the Ravens intercepted Jeff Blake three times.

Franchise player Chris McAlister intercepted Blake twice, returning one for an 83-yard touchdown that he punctuated with a celebration that drew a taunting penalty. Plus, safety Ed Reed blocked his third punt in two seasons, scooping the football on the bounce to reach the end zone. This may have brought some closure to the divorce from Blake whose contract offer was withdrawn by the Ravens when the veteran passer decided to test free agency. It was an authoritative response by a secondary that remembered Blake's habit of taunting them in practice last year and betting them $500 that they couldn't intercept his passes. They likened Blake to "Steamin' Willie Beamon," the fictional, egocentric quarterback portrayed by Jamie Foxx in the movie, "Any Given Sunday." 

"It was a lot of fun to go against Jeff Blake/Willie Beamon," Ravens safety Gary Baxter said. "Jeff is the type of guy you love to have on your team as a competitor, but he's fun to beat. My hat is off to Willie Beamon, but we got him this time." 

Amid the apathetic atmosphere of 24,193 sweating it out at Sun Devil Stadium, Baltimore (3-2) forged their own gridiron oasis to maintain a half-game advantage in the AFC North over the Cleveland Browns. It was 96 degrees at kickoff. Then, the Ravens turned up the heat on Blake and Arizona (1-5). Along his way to the end zone on his second interception, McAlister appeared to point the football in Blake's direction before showboating backwards on his touchdown return in the third quarter. The cornerback's actions were greeted with a flurry of yellow flags for the blatant taunting and drew a reprimand from Ravens coach Brian Billick. "It kind of displeased me that I got a little too carried away," said McAlister, who said his actions were prompted, in part, by his frustrations from off-field problems this fall that include a driving under the influence charge and being benched for a game and fined for breaking curfew and a team meeting. "Next time, I'll remember: get in the end zone, then celebrate on the sidelines. "It could have cost us had the game been closer.

After the last month that I've had, being able to bounce back from all the things I've had to deal with, this means a lot to me." Blake was limited to 247 yards and a 65.4 quarterback rating and two inconsequential touchdowns despite 36 passes. "I kind of brought it upon myself," said Blake, whose body language appeared to tip off his intentions to throw to rookie wideout Anquan Boldin. "They did a good job of baiting me to throw the football, stepping in front and picking it off." As for McAlister's display, Blake said: "That's just Chris. If that's his attitude and the way he wants to portray himself as a player, so be it." 

Billick said he didn't speak with Blake before or after the game. Once McAlister stepped to the podium for post-game interviews, Billick put on his reporter's hat and jokingly asked McAlister: What were you thinking? Minutes earlier, Billick's frustration seemed to have subsided somewhat in regards to McAlister. "At some point he's going to learn," Billick said. "It's always bittersweet with Chris. I'm sure he's going to hear about it. "He just has to understand that you leave your team vulnerable. It wasn't meant to be disrespectful. It's having fun with the game. He's got to control himself." 

There wasn't much to complain about afterward, though, following the Ravens winning through a formula reminiscent of their Super Bowl campaign from three years ago. Baltimore leaned heavily upon running back Jamal Lewis, the NFL rushing leader who set a club record with his fourth consecutive 100-yard performance. Lewis' game-high 131 yards took pressure off of a passing game that ranks last statistically in the league and only generated 75 yards from rookie quarterback Kyle Boller. Lewis left the game in the second half to have his right shoulder examined, but X-rays were negative and he returned. Lewis said he was fairly sore, but not seriously injured. 

Reed blocked Scott Player's punt in the second quarter and managed to keep his eye on the football, corral it and sprint 22 yards to give Baltimore a 16-7 lead. "Spectacular player that will get his due," Billick said. "When we get more than 20,000 people watching us, maybe someone will recognize what kind of player he is."

Boller completed 9 of his 18 passes for a 61.1 quarterback rating. He was plagued by a few drops, including one in the end zone in the first half by Frank Sanders that puzzled the former Cardinals receiver. Matt Stover kicked four field goals, also reminiscent from the Super Bowl season when he often carried the offense. Blake hit tight end Freddie Jones with 15 seconds remaining and ran in a 2-point conversion to make the score closer. An onside kick attempt was unsuccessful. McAlister said Blake doesn't owe the Ravens any money. "Me and Jeff had a nice talk, but I won't tell you what we talked about," said McAlister, grinning. "We had a bet going between he and I, but I won't even try to go collect on it."

Aaron Wilson wirtes for The Carrol County Times


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