Ravens' running game, defense key victory

BALTIMORE – Another rough showing by the Baltimore Ravens' quarterbacks was salvaged by a top-notch running game, rugged defense and the emergence of rookie return specialist B.J. Sams.<br><br> During the Ravens' 17-6 victory over the Detroit Lions on Saturday night at M&T Bank Stadium, quarterback Kyle Boller failed to produce a touchdown other than handing the football off to Chester Taylor to open the second half.

Taylor scored the first touchdown for Baltimore (2-1) on an 84-yard jaunt up the middle. The backup running back added a 10-yard score in the fourth quarter to gain 117 yards on 10 carries.

Meanwhile, Sams electrified the crowd in an emphatic statement about his worthiness to possibly unseat fumble-prone incumbent Lamont Brightful.

The undrafted free agent from McNeese State (La.) dashed 89 yards on a punt return for a touchdown in the first quarter that was nullified. Running back Musa Smith was penalized for running into punter Nick Harris.

Sams' next two punt returns were shortened by penalties by Taylor, but he caught one punt over his shoulder and gained 12 yards after backpedaling 10 yards to secure another deep kick.

"You see the potential," special-teams coordinator Gary Zauner said. "He fielded the ball well. He read the blockers and he can make people miss. The kid has talent.

"We needed to see if he could do it with the lights on. He did. Those penalties hurt us."

Boller completed 9 of 14 passes for 93 yards, no touchdowns and wasn't intercepted for a 83.3 passer rating. Through the first two preseason games, the Ravens had the lowest-ranked passing game in the NFL to equal last season's showing.

However, the second-year quarterback never moved the team consistently, converting 1-of-8 third downs (13 percent). Boller didn't see an open Randy Hymes on a 3rd-and-5 at the Lions' 36 and was tackled after a 2-yard gain to stall one drive.

Curiously, Boller said it felt "great," adding that, "It was just like practice. I just had to get the ball to the receivers."

Kevin Johnson led the Ravens with three receptions for 40 yards.

One week after surrendering a long touchdown pass to Philadelphia Eagles receiver Terrell Owens, the Ravens' defense excelled despite not having cornerback Chris McAlister (contract dispute) and linebacker Peter Boulware (knee) in addition to defensive ends Tony Weaver (high ankle sprain) and Marques Douglas (elbow).

The Ravens contained Lions quarterback Joey Harrington and a stable of receivers that includes Charles Rogers, Roy Williams and Tai Streets. In the first half, the Lions were limited to a pair of field goals by Jason Hanson.

All-Pro linebacker Ray Lewis also knocked the helmet off rookie running back Kevin Jones.

"We're starting to gel now," Lewis said. "We still have some missing pieces to fill, but the pieces we have right now are giving us what we need. We need to keep the big plays out of the game, keep the same focus and keep playing hard-nosed football."

Lions quarterback Joey Harrington completed 11 of 20 passes for 98 yards, but his longest completion was 27 yards.

Cornerback Gary Baxter, who was beaten badly by Owens last week, rebounded to deflect two passes in the first half.

"Charles Rogers, Roy Williams, Joey Harrington, they're going to be good," Baxter said. "We stopped them pretty good. On the back end, we did well. No big plays."

Baxter, who underwent abdominal hernia surgery in the off-season appeared to react quicker to passes, too.

"For me, I let it go," Baxter said. "It was the first time I played without a stomach vest. I felt good."

During the second half, the travails of backup quarterback Kordell Stewart are becoming more glaring each week.

One week after two poorly-thrown interceptions, Stewart threw the football into heavy coverage behind Ron Johnson in the red zone and was intercepted. Later, Stewart mishandled a center exchange inside the 10 and was charged with a fumble as he squandered another scoring opportunity.

Backup safety Gerome Sapp recovered a fumble forced by linebacker T.J. Slaughter and intercepted a dropped pass.

Pro Bowl runner Jamal Lewis gained four yards on four carries before calling it a night. The Ravens' basic style appears unchanged as they enter their final preseason game: a smash-mouth running team with a limited passing game and an aggressive defense.

"We did some good things," Jamal Lewis said. "We still have to go out and experiment on some things."

NOTES: Fullback Ovie Mughelli sprained his left knee and didn't return.

Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times.
 


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