"I've played against big receivers my entire career," said McAlister, the Ravens' franchise player. "This is just another one. Bottom line: I think you have to do more than play against big receivers to get to the Pro Bowl. "I think it will open their eyes, but, at the same time, I've had these matchups before, I've have had success before and people's eyes have still been glued shut. I don't care if their eyes are open or not, this is just about me going out and playing."
Regardless of perception, this first encounter between McAlister and Owens promises to have both a critical and a noisy effect on Sunday's football game at M&T Bank Stadium. Owens is a brash receiver with a tendency toward self-promotion who has been extremely critical of management and teammates. That includes quarterback Jeff Garcia, who's returning from an injury to start on Sunday. Owens is also a supreme talent who combines ideal size at 6-foot-3, 226 pounds with the production of 573 career receptions, 8,310 yards and 78 touchdowns. "It doesn't matter who he is facing, Terrell gets up for everyone," San Francisco running back Garrison Hearst said. "He's as good as he wants to be. Any time he wants to take over a game, he can."
Besides Seattle Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck shredding the Ravens for five touchdown passes in Baltimore's 44-41 win, it has been a strong run for McAlister and the entire secondary. McAlister's primary responsibility, Koren Robinson, caught four passes for 64 yards and a touchdown on Sunday. McAlister held Miami Dolphins receiver Chris Chambers to four receptions for 34 yards two weeks ago, limiting St. Louis Rams Pro Bowler Torry Holt to three catches for 38 yards and containing the production of Jacksonville's Jimmy Smith and Cincinnati's Peter Warrick. "If Chris makes up his mind, not too many people are going to catch too many passes," perennial All-Pro linebacker Ray Lewis said.
At 6-foot-1 and 217 pounds with 4.3 speed over 40 yards, McAlister is one of the few cornerbacks physically capable of shadowing Owens. "He's a big, physical corner who likes to bump you," San Francisco coach Dennis Erickson said. "Guys that do that well are successful in this league and he is one of the better ones. He creates a problem for whoever he covers."
Will McAlister be able to shut down the combustible Owens?
Owens set an NFL record with 20 receptions in a game against Chicago three year ago. He has been selected to three consecutive Pro Bowls and caught a career-high 100 passes for 1,300 yards and 13 touchdowns last season. He already has 61 receptions for 840 yards and six touchdowns this fall with scores in each of the last three games. "To play somebody who doesn't know me, I think it works out very good," McAlister said. "I think that kind of cancels itself out because I don't know him. You get a feel for each other and whoever picks up on each other's tendencies faster is going to win.". Owens' top yardage totals this fall are 155 and 152 yards against Tampa Bay and Pittsburgh, respectively. He caught eight passes against the Steelers for a 19.4 average.
Drafted in the third round out of Tennessee-Chattanooga in 1996, Owens was the 11th receiver taken overall in a year where five receivers went in the first round. Picked after Keyshawn Johnson (first overall), Terry Glenn (seventh overall), Eddie Kennison (18th overall), Marvin Harrison (19th overall) and Eric Moulds (24th overall), Owens ranks ahead of those players except for Harrison's 727 catches and 9,624 yards and Johnson's 603 catches. When asked what he though about playing against a so-called marquee player, McAlister responded confidently. "So am I, so what's the difference?" McAlister said.
Unlike several opponents who have avoided targeting McAlister since he intercepted two passes against the Arizona Cardinals, Owens will likely be an exception to that rule. "I don't expect people to turn away or not throw to their go-to guys," McAlister said. "Instead of him getting 15 balls, he will probably get 10 balls. It's still a lot of action."
McAlister is likely to have help over the top from safeties Ed Reed and Gary Baxter. Plus, Lewis is lurking in the middle on pass drops. "He said he's not scared of anybody coming across the middle," Lewis said. "If he comes into the inside, we'll introduce each other."
Owens has also demonstrated a penchant in the past for end-zone strutting, including the infamous "Sharpie" incident and a humorous skit where he borrowed a cheerleader's pom-poms.
"He can clown and showboat," McAlister said. "If he's the answer, then he's the answer for his ball club to win. I ain't got nothing to do with his showboating. Talent is going to take over."
Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times.