Ravens continue mastery over Broncos

BALTIMORE - Before a final barrage of punches completed another knockout victory over the Denver Broncos, the Baltimore Ravens softened up their opponent with an extended sparring session. Perennial All-Pro linebacker Ray Lewis deduced the intentions of Broncos quarterback Danny Kanell for a game-changing interception in the fourth quarter to unleash a flood of Baltimore scores.

This latest demonstration of the Ravens' mastery over the Broncos generated a 26-6 win Sunday before a record crowd of 69,721 at M&T Bank Stadium. It also extended Ravens coach Brian Billick's undefeated record over Denver coach Mike Shanahan to four wins in a row. "Anytime you've got somebody hitting you in the mouth, you have a couple of choices: punch them back, fall down or run away," Baltimore linebacker Ed Hartwell said. "At first, Denver tried to fight back and then I think they felt they were overpowered. We were the hunters."

Balancing a defensive resurgence with a bone-rattling effort from NFL rushing leader Jamal Lewis, Baltimore (4-3) maintained its status atop the downtrodden AFC North for a one-game edge over the Cincinnati Bengals. "You can see it in their eyes once you get the ball moving downhill and the offensive line is dominating them," said Lewis after bruising the Broncos with a career-high 32 carries for 134 yards and a 28-yard touchdown run with two minutes remaining. "You can feel them wear down."

Ray Lewis' 37-yard return of a pass intended for Rod Smith to the Broncos' 20 set up rookie quarterback Kyle Boller's short touchdown pass to tight end Terry Jones to boost a narrow 9-6 advantage to a comfortable 16-9 edge. Lewis collected a game-high 10 tackles as Baltimore held Broncos running back Clinton Portis to 86 yards and no touchdowns on 22 carries. Denver converted only 4-of-15 third downs.

Besides the efforts of the defense, the Ravens committed no turnovers under rookie quarterback Kyle Boller a week after he lost three in a loss to the Bengals.  Boller was efficient as he managed the pain of his sprained, non-throwing shoulder despite obvious discomfort.  He completed 15 of his 27 passes for 137 yards for one touchdown and an 81.9 quarterback rating. "Jamal came up to me in the first quarter and said, 'Throw a couple downfield to take the pressure off me,'" Boller said. "He's exactly right. The more that we can complete downfield, the more lanes we're going to open up for him. Teams are going to be in trouble if we can work on both sides of the ball."

Plus, Baltimore overcame being penalized nine times and having tight end Todd Heap's touchdown overturned in the second quarter by an instant replay challenge by Denver coach Mike Shanahan. After scooting past free safety Sam Brandon on an inside route, Heap appeared to gather in an 11-yard touchdown pass. He was hammered by Broncos linebacker Al Wilson and lost the football and his helmet when he struck the ground. The officials reviewed the call and ruled that Heap didn't have control of the football before he lost it in the end zone. The Ravens settled for a field goal. "It was probably one of the hardest hits I've taken," Heap said. "I was seeing stars. My head was definitely ringing after that one. I don't think there's any doubt in my mind that I felt I had it. You can't leave it in the ref's hands. "I think they were seeing something different than what I was feeling and seeing."

Billick wasn't nearly as diplomatic about the call, responding with a profanity-laced tirade afterward during which he said he's no longer an advocate of instant replay. "I quit, I give up," Billick said. "I've tried to be an advocate of instant replay. I've tried to do the company line. I've said the right things. Dump the whole thing. We have spent so much money on this thing and it doesn't work. "I'm sorry. I've tried to hold the line. Dump it. Get rid of the whole damn thing because it doesn't work. Move on."

Denver (5-3) entered the game with the third-ranked rushing offense in the league behind Portis' 596 yards.  However, the Ravens shut down the Denver offense, holding Portis to 3.9 yards a carry.  Kanell was victimized to the tune of 114 passing yards, two interceptions and a 33.5 quarterback rating. "Some people want to call it arrogance, some people want to call it cockiness, but it's just the way we play football," Ray Lewis said. "Our defense doesn't believe in giving up certain things. "We knew their quarterback situation. We understood it very well. We knew they were going to try to feed Clinton Portis. That's a quality team, but we just match up very well with Denver."

Baltimore wasn't done capitalizing on the flu-stricken Kanell, a third-stringer promoted to the starting lineup because of injuries to Jake Plummer and Steve Beuerlein.  On the next series, Pro Bowl outside linebacker Peter Boulware sacked Kanell on fourth down at the Broncos' 11. Four plays later, Matt Stover kicked his fourth field goal of the game on a day where he converted his 300th of his career.

Free safety Gary Baxter shifted over to cornerback because of Corey Fuller's hamstring injury and intercepted a Kanell pass and rambled 34 yards up the sideline. On the ensuing play, Jamal Lewis finished the Broncos off, rumbling off All-Pro left tackle Jonathan Ogden's crushing block.  Lewis' 28-yard touchdown run was the exclamation point on another win over the Broncos. He's the first back to rush for 100 yards against Denver this season.

In a series that includes last year's Monday night upset and an AFC wild-card victory three years ago en route to a Super Bowl win, Denver hasn't won a game over Baltimore since the Ravens' inaugural season under Ted Marchibroda. "This was old-school, a man's game," Billick said. "It was a hard-fought win."

Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times.

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