Baxter, McAlister prepare to cover Rice, Brown

OWINGS MILLS – It's a classic generational clash between football players born decades apart. Baltimore Ravens cornerbacks Chris McAlister and Gary Baxter are preparing to cover two venerable Oakland Raiders receivers they grew up idolizing who require little introduction. Jerry Rice and Tim Brown are two of the most accomplished players in NFL history.

"It is always going to be a thrill playing against those two guys because you are going to see them inducted into the Hall of Fame," said Baxter, who grew up in Texas using Rice in the old Nintendo game, Tecmo Bowl, when Rice was starring for the San Francisco 49ers. "If you go out there and have a good game against them, you can always brag about it."

No one has scored more touchdowns than Rice, 41, or caught more passes, more scoring receptions, or gained more receiving yards or career yards from scrimmage. And Brown, 37, doesn't rank far behind Rice in several statistical categories.  The perennial All-Pro tandem has a combined 33 years and 516 games of NFL service with 2,560 catches for 38,855 yards and 292 touchdown catches.

Yet, Sunday's football game between Baltimore (8-5) and Oakland (3-10) isn't about comparing resumes. And it's definitely not about an autograph hunt for Baxter, 24, and McAlister, 26, who have a 4-1 mark starting at cornerback together this season. "I grew up watching them so that makes them kind of old and wise in the game, but, no, I ain't headed out there for an autograph," Baxter said. "I'm looking for a win."

McAlister has already shut down the likes of Torry Holt, Terrell Owens and Chad Johnson this season, among others."It's the next challenge for Chris and the entire secondary," Ravens coach Brian Billick said.

Although Oakland is mired in a horrendous season marred by injuries that include quarterback Rich Gannon and backup passer Marques Tuiasosopo and third-stringer Rick Mirer has struggled to deliver the football outside, the Ravens are still treating Rice and Brown as dangerous targets based on past precedent. "They're crafty, and they know how to get open," McAlister said. "They're still playing for a reason. If they couldn't play the game, I'm pretty sure they would have been replaced already."

Both Raiders standouts' statistics are way off from previous campaigns, though. Rice leads Oakland with 48 receptions for 648 yards and one score. Brown has 43 catches for 489 yards and two touchdowns. For his illustrious career, Rice has produced an NFL-best 1,504 catches, 22,245 yards, 193 touchdown catches, 204 total touchdowns and 22,880 yards from scrimmage. With Gannon healthy last season during the Raiders' Super Bowl appearance, Rice finished with 92 receptions for 1,211 yards and seven touchdowns as Brown caught 81 passes for 830 yards. In a 27-7 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers a week ago, Brown was limited to three receptions for 27 yards as Rice caught two passes for 27 yards.

Meanwhile, Mirer completed only 10-of-25 passes for 68 yards, no touchdowns, two interceptions and a putrid 14.6 quarterback rating. "The frustrating part is going to battle with half the guys," Brown said. "Not that the substitutes aren't capable, but in this league you need your starters out there. We have played well, but not good enough to win football games."

While McAlister has played against Rice before, this is a new experience altogether for Baxter. For Baxter, there might be a certain degree of awe that Billick has seen before from young cornerbacks playing against Rice. One that he expects to fade quickly while matching wits with the NFL legend, though. "I hope that he waits to get the autograph until after the game," Billick said. "That's a rare breed of cat. He and Tim Brown, you don't see that every day. I think it will be a good moment for Gary to know that he can play against guys of that stature."

Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times.

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