Ravens win ugly over 49ers

SAN FRANCISCO -- It was a nostalgic escape reminiscent of the Baltimore Ravens' vintage past, a trademark ugly victory engineered by a stingy defense and the strong right leg of veteran kicker Matt Stover. Virtually everything about the Ravens' 9-7 win over the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday at Monster Park mirrored their haphazard outings during their run to a Super Bowl title seven years ago.

The offense had seemingly no clue how to finish what it starts in the red zone as the Ravens didn't score a touchdown despite outgaining the 49ers 315 to 163 yards as they won with the lowest point total in a win since the franchise's inaugural season in 1996.

Although Ravens coach Brian Billick described the lone road win of the season as a satisfying one after trekking 2,821 miles to the Bay Area, he acknowledged that the game brought him an equal amount of relief as it did joy.

"What's the difference?" Billick said. "Survival. Given the guys we had to throw in there, we grew a little bit."

The defense was almost free of lapses, limiting the 49ers to one first down by halftime.

And Stover booted three field goals, including what turned out to be the game-winning kick from 49 yards with 8:12 remaining in the third quarter. It was like old times for Stover, who carried the Ravens' offense during a five-game stretch without a touchdown during the 2000 season.

"Oh yeah, hemming and hawing," Stover said. "Who's going to score first? Who's going to make the mistake? Who's going to capitalize? We made enough plays to win this ball game."

And the Ravens (3-2) headed to the airport victorious despite losing two starting offensive linemen -- center Mike Flynn to a knee sprain and right tackle Adam Terry to a knee sprain -- and being forced to play three rookies with third-year left guard Jason Brown acting as the elder statesman. The patchwork offensive line was held together by players ranging from 24 to 21 years old. They didn't allow a sack.

"Adversity, adversity, adversity," Brown said. "In sports situations like this, you know it's going to happen during the season, but you never expect for two to go down in a game. When it hits the fan, you've got to be ready.

"We looked at each other in the eye and said, 'Hey, you got to go.' It's very simple. You've got to either sink or swim. We had no option. We had to swim."

Ironically, all of this transpired with Trent Dilfer, the quarterback Baltimore dumped after the Super Bowl win, under center for the 49ers.

Dilfer, who was battered by Baltimore for three sacks and wasn't trusted to throw very often by 49ers coach Mike Nolan, nearly led the 49ers to a win. He beat a blitz package to hit Arnaz Battle in stride for a 23-yard touchdown with 6:14 left in the third quarter to bring the 49ers within two points.

If not for 49ers kicker Joe Nedney pushing the football wide to the right from 52 yards out with 2:37 remaining in the fourth quarter, the Ravens could have easily lost this game after building a 9-0 advantage.

Overall, it was a fairly impressive defensive showing, although it did happen against a 35-year-old backup quarterback directing the worst offense in the league that was missing tight end Vernon Davis starting quarterback Alex Smith and left offensive tackle Jonas Jennings.

"I don't care about stats," All-Pro middle linebacker Ray Lewis said. "Bottom line is if they don't get in the end zone, they don't win. When we knew what we had to come into the game with and when the injuries hit, every offensive guy came to a defensive guy and said, 'We need you all to carry us.' We know what that means."

However, the Ravens' margin of victory could have been a lot higher if not for the breakdowns in the red zone, going 0-for-2 inside the 20-yard line.

"It's very disheartening," Stover said. "When this team needs every point it can get and you leave six points off the scoreboard, it puts us in a tough position. I knew I had to be consistent to give our team the best chance to win the ball game."

It was Stover, who finally broke the deadlock with the game's first points on a 26-yard kick just 2:44 before halftime. Then, he followed that kick with a 32-yarder with seven seconds left in the first half for a 6-0 halftime lead. His third field goal was set up by safety Ed Reed intercepting an errant Dilfer pass.

Still, the Ravens' offense was far from crisp. Despite running back Willis McGahee rushing for 88 yards on 22 carries, quarterback Steve McNair was unable to make things happen in the red zone.

McNair completed 29 of 43 passes for 214 yards and no touchdowns for an average 79.0 passer rating. On the bright side, he had no turnovers for the first time this year.

"It was frustrating, it's frustrating to get down there and score three points," McNair said. "We have to get better. We've got to fine-tune everything. We've got to figure out what we've got to do when we get down there.

"We had to dink and dunk and control the ball. We've got a long way to go, especially in the red zone. We've still got time to work on it."

For nearly the entire game, the Ravens suffocated Dilfer. He completed 12 of 19 passes for 126 yards, and finally made the Ravens pay with his crisp spiral to Battle. That followed Dilfer enduring a brutal hit from blitzing safety Gerome Sapp to deliver a 42-yard strike to Bryan Gilmore.

During the first half, Dilfer completed just 2 of 6 passes for eight yards as San Francisco managed to total only 38 yards on 18 offensive plays. Punter Andy Lee's 74-yard punt was the 49ers' chief highlight.

"When it's ugly, it's really ugly," said Dilfer, who issued a public apology to Billick on Wednesday for his long-held personal grudge and shook hands with the coach Sunday.

Meanwhile, a 32-yard pass-interference penalty on 49ers cornerback Shawntae Spence actually gave the Ravens their longest offensive gain.

"It's very frustrating," Brown said. "It's nice to have Matt Stover back there, but I only want to see Matt kicking extra points. I don't want to see him kicking field goals. When we get in that red zone, we have to finish."

Those squandered opportunities could lead to trouble down the road as the difficulty of the schedule increases against the likes of the Pittsburgh Steelers, New England Patriots and Indianapolis Colts. Baltimore has scored just five touchdowns in five games.

"We can't make no excuses," Mason said. "Of course, you want to get touchdowns. But when the day is done, the sun goes down, what do you want? You want to win.

"You can beat us up in the paper all you want. I guarantee you that enjoy the win more than you enjoy the losses. The only thing you remember is the 'W.' Everything else is history."

Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital

Ravens Insider Top Stories