Ravens dominate the 49ers

BALTIMORE - Standing in front of the entire football team, linebacker Ray Lewis was granted the floor by Brian Billick and witnesses said the room grew silent. Flashing his diamond-encrusted Super Bowl ring days before the Baltimore Ravens' 44-6 clobbering of the San Francisco 49ers, Lewis used the forum of a team meeting to deliver a fiery reminder about their possibilities.

"Ray did an excellent job of motivating a bunch of people," cornerback Gary Baxter said. "He made us realize what the prize is, what is very possible if we pay the price and play football the way we know how to." Evidently, the Ravens heeded Lewis' message by engineering perhaps their most dominant showing in years Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium with the highest margin of victory in team history. Baltimore (7-5) remains tied atop the AFC North as a critical rematch with co-leader Cincinnati (7-5) looms here next week following the Bengals' win over the Pittsburgh Steelers

The offense duplicated last week's point total from an overtime win over Seattle, scoring on seven of its 14 possessions. Quarterback Anthony Wright was solid despite requiring a pain-killing injection before kickoff to alleviate his sore shoulder. This time, he didn't have to mount an epic comeback. There was no need as Baltimore controlled the tempo and score during an old-fashioned belt-whipping. The Ravens established a new team mark for highest two-game scoring total with 88 points over the last two weeks. Defensively, Baltimore (6-5) exploited the rust of 49ers quarterback Jeff Garcia with four interceptions after a three-game hiatus with an ankle injury. Garcia was exiled to the bench by the fourth quarter with 112 passing yards and an 18.8 passer rating. All-Pro wide receiver Terrell Owens was limited to three receptions for 23 yards, silenced by cornerbacks Chris McAlister and Gary Baxter.

 San Francisco dropped to 0-6 in road games and only produced 10 first downs. And the Ravens' special teams contributed three field goals from kicker Matt Stover. One of them was set up in the second quarter by a 75-yard kickoff return from Lamont Brightful. "This is a complete game for us," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "This is the kind of game we're capable of having. It's what we're going to need the rest of the way to get done what we want to get done." 

Baltimore demoralized the 49ers almost immediately. Garcia's first pass of the game was intended for Owens, but he merely waved one hand at the ball and it was deflected right to inside linebacker Ed Hartwell. "It was like a bad nightmare," Garcia said. "There are no excuses." Two plays later, NFL rushing leader Jamal Lewis stomped through arm-tackle attempts for 21 yards. The run set up his six-yard scamper off right tackle Orlando Brown's seal block of defensive end John Engelberger for a touchdown. "It's about imposing your will on them," McAlister said. "Eventually, your opponent will give in." 

Because the 49ers mustered only two field goals the rest of the way, Stover's extra point was actually all the points Baltimore really needed. That's how dominant the Ravens were Sunday. It was also a reflection of how awful Garcia was. "Embarrassing game," 49ers coach Dennis Erickson said. "We didn't play well in all aspects, starting with me. Any time you turn it over and get interceptions and turnovers for touchdowns, you're going to get your butts beat and that's exactly what happened." 

Shaking off an interception and a fumble, Wright began to heat up shortly after Stover's 28-yard field goal with two minutes remaining in the first half. Wright went directly back to Marcus Robinson, whom he found four times for touchdowns a week ago. Working out of the shotgun, Wright located Robinson over the middle and he darted past the 49ers' defensive backs for a 38-yard touchdown. "Our mentality was to come out and prove that last week wasn't a fluke," said Wright, who passed for 177 yards and two touchdowns. "It's going to be hard for teams to figure us out. We have weapons now at every position." 

Ray Lewis was a weapon for Baltimore with a game-high 18 tackles. Fourteen seconds after Robinson's fifth touchdown catch from Wright in two weeks, Lewis intercepted a pass dropped by Cedrick Wilson in the flat. The football sailed directly into his waiting hands with 32 seconds remaining in the first half. The perennial All-Pro linebacker high-stepped 29 yards for his first regular-season interception for a touchdown. It was his fourth interception of the season. Lewis' score put an exclamation point on a 17-point outburst in the 1:25 of the half to give Baltimore a commanding 24-6 edge. "When we come out and play with enthusiasm, fly around to the ball, that's our type of football," Lewis said. "Now, we can focus on Cincinnati. Everybody else is out of the way." 

After a scoreless third quarter, the Ravens padded their advantage with two more Stover field goals in the fourth quarter. Plus, Baxter took away yet another deflected pass thrown by Garcia, this one dropped by running back Kevan Barlow, to set up Wright's touchdown pass to tight end Terry Jones. Even rookie running back Musa Smith got into the scoring act, subbing for Jamal Lewis and scoring his first NFL touchdown on a 2-yard plunge with 1:15 left in the game. Lewis wasn't leaned upon as heavily as usual and wound up with 78 yards on 19 carries. He was able to enjoy the view at the end as Baltimore stayed in contention for the playoffs and the AFC North title. "I've never played on a team like this," Robinson said. "It's a great feeling to know that we control our own destiny." 

Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times.

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