Ngata leading the charge

BALTIMORE -- Defensive tackle Haloti Ngata is fulfilling the promise the Baltimore Ravens recognized in him a year ago when they drafted him in the first round. The 6-foot-4, 340-pound lineman has been credited with 73 tackles, two sacks and one forced fumble, drawing some attention in the Pro Bowl balloting that has eluded nose guard Kelly Gregg.

According to the NFL, Ngata ranks second among all defensive tackles in tackles.

Over his previous seven games, Ngata has recorded 39 tackles, six for losses, two sacks and six quarterback hurries.

"Obviously, he has the physical presence," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "His understanding of a defense and the natural maturation that you have going into that second year and understanding what it is, and what you can get done in this league."

Unfortunately for the Ravens, Ngata left the game with a left knee injury during their Sunday night game against the defending Super Bowl champion Indianapolis Colts. The injury required X-rays, but he returned.

The Ravens entered Sunday's game ranking third in run defense

And Ngata has kept blockers off of middle linebacker Ray Lewis, who leads Baltimore with 167 tackles, and inside linebacker Bart Scott, who has 103 tackles.

Ngata's ascension hasn't gone unnoticed by the league, including New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick.

"Ngata is a mountain of a guy, but has good mobility," Belichick said prior to last week's 27-24 victory over the Ravens in Baltimore. "If you double him or if you spend too much time blocking him, then you can't get up to the next level to get to Lewis and Scott. If you leave too quickly to get up to Lewis and Scott, then you leave him standing on the line of scrimmage. and it's hard to get by him."

NEUHEISEL UPDATE: Ravens offensive coordinator Rick Neuheisel interviewed for the Georgia Tech head coaching position ultimately landed by former Navy coach Paul Johnson, meeting in Atlanta with school officials the day before the New England game.

Neuheisel was one of eight candidates to interview, including Connecticut head coach Randy Edsall, Kentucky offensive coordinator Joker Phillips, Florida defensive coordinator Charlie Strong, Georgia Southern head coach Chris Hatcher, Georgia Tech defensive coordinator Jon Tenuta, former Auburn head coach Terry Bowden and Johnson.

Neuheisel has acknowledged having back-channel contact with SMU officials regarding their vacancy, but he's not expected to be a serious candidate, according to reports out of Dallas.

PROGRESSING: Outside linebacker Antwan Barnes notched his first NFL sack against the Patriots, tackling Tom Brady.

He's been close on several previous quarterback pressures, but has recorded only one along with four tackles and two pass deflections.

The fourth-round draft pick from Florida International has intrigued the coaching staff with his athleticism, but remains a somewhat raw prospect, albeit one with outstanding athleticism.

"He's got a low center of gravity, he can get underneath some big guys," Ryan said. "Great athlete, he runs a 4.4 something. We're excited about him.

"He's just now maturing a little bit and understanding the defense, understanding his role in our system. I think you're going to see a lot of good things from Antwan."

HARRISON FINED: Patriots safety Rodney Harrison was punished by the league office with a $5,000 fine for taunting Billick.

Harrison's transgression occurred after safety James Sanders intercepted quarterback Kyle Boller in the fourth quarter.

Harrison engaged Billick, who responded by blowing three kisses at Harrison.

Billick wasn't punished for responding. INJURY UPDATE: Cornerback Samari Rolle didn't start, apparently due to a shoulder injury. He was listed as questionable on the injury report. Derrick Martin started in his place.

Cornerback Chris McAlister was out due to a strained knee after not practicing all week. Forecast as a game-time decision by Billick, McAlister's knee didn't cooperate.

The Pro Bowl defensive back is likely to have surgery at some point, most likely immediately following the season.

Corey Ivy started in place of McAlister.

Ryan was surprised that McAlister played against New England after not practicing the entire week.

"We actually never realized that Chris could play until right up before game time," Ryan said. "So we were ready to go without Chris, but then he showed up and said he wanted to go. I commend Chris for that."

Seldom-utilized cornerback David Pittman operated as the nickel back and was beat on a first-quarter touchdown pass from Peyton Manning to Reggie Wayne.

Tight end Todd Heap missed his seventh game in the past nine weeks with a strained hamstring. Billick has acknowledged that Heap is likely done for the season, but he has yet to be placed on injured reserve.

Daniel Wilcox started in place of Heap. The Ravens also deactivated defensive tackle Justin Bannan (sprained knee), wide receiver Demetrius Williams (high-ankle sprain), safety Gerome Sapp (hamstring), running back Cory Ross (head), offensive tackle Jared Gaither and linebacker Justin Bannan.

QUICK HITS: Kickoff specialist Rhys Lloyd handled kickoffs in place of kicker Matt Stover. ... The Ravens entered Sunday night's game with serious awareness of hard-hitting Colts safety Bob Sanders, who's nicknamed "The Eraser." Baltimore wanted to draft Sanders in the second round when he was coming out of Iowa, but he was unavailable when they were picking. "He really helps them out a lot," quarterback Kyle Boller said. "He's a guy that's going to come down in the box and help with the run. He's just a great safety. He is one of those guys that's going to be everywhere and making plays, so we've got to definitely know where he's at." ... The Ravens cut defensive tackle Zarnell Fitch from the active roster, promoting defensive tackle Amon Gordon (Stanford) from the practice squad to take his place. ... The Colts deactivated wide receiver Craphsonso Thorpe, defensive backs Keiwan Ratliff and Brandon Condren, linebacker Brandon Archer, offensive tackles Ryan Diem and Corey Hilliard, defensive tackle Raheem Brock and wide receiver Marvin Harrison due to a knee injury. ... The Ravens wore their all-black uniforms for the second consecutive game.


1. The Baltimore Ravens' meltdown Sunday night against the defending Super Bowl champion Indianapolis Colts was a complete debacle. And the maelstrom was spelled immediately as the Ravens' secondary was torched for a deep touchdown, running back Willis McGahee coughed up a fumble and Sam Koch had a punt blocked for a safety. It was 23-0 by the end of the first quarter as Baltimore (4-9) absorbed a 44-20 defeat that represents a franchise-record seventh consecutive loss.

There was no way the Ravens were going to come back from that type of deficit as an emotionally flat team that played with grit in a narrow loss a week ago to the undefeated New England Patriots had no answer for the Colts' dominance. There would be no revenge for a 15-6 AFC divisional playoff loss at M&T Bank Stadium 11 months ago. This was far worse.

2. Colts quarterback Peyton Manning completed 13 of 17 passes for 249 yards, four touchdown passes and no interceptions for a pristine 157.5 passer rating. He reigned supreme over a usually stingy defense that intercepted him twice and held him to no touchdowns in a playoff loss on this field nearly a year ago.

3. Meanwhile, Ravens quarterback Kyle Boller threw three interceptions, staring down his targets in what amounts to a rookie mistake that's inexcusable for a player with this much NFL inexperience. Two of his throws were intercepted by middle linebacker Gary Brackett, who gladly kept reading the quarterback's eyes. Boller also had a two-point conversion pass picked off.

He completed 19 of 25 passes for 132 yards and one touchdown pass with a 50.8 quarterback rating after three quarters. He was replaced late in the fourth quarter and rookie Troy Smith, the Heisman Tropy winner from Ohio State, scrambled six yards for his first NFL touchdown in his regular-season professional debut.

4. Playing without starting cornerbacks Chris McAlister (strained knee) and Samari Rolle (shoulder), the Ravens' lack of depth, speed and coverage skills in the secondary were exposed again. Corey Ivy, David Pittman and Derrick Martin did very little to slow down an explosive passing game that could have manufactured even more points if Colts coach Tony Dungy hadn't mercifully removed Manning midway through the third quarter. Colts rookie wide receiver Anthony Gonzalez caught two touchdown passes, dashing past Pittman and Ivy.

5. Ranking last in the NFL in turnover margin after entering Sunday night with a minus-12 differential on 10 interceptions and a league-high 20 fumbles, McGahee fumbled in the first quarter to lead to a quick score and Boller would throw three more interceptions to give Baltimore 34 turnovers for the year.

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

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