The best counterpunches were delivered by McAlister and Ngata.

Catching a floating pass in front of tight end Doug Jolley, McAlister ran down the sideline for his fourth career touchdown, putting the Ravens ahead 14-0 on the first play of the second quarter.

Four drives later, Ngata caught a deflected pass and took it 60 yards before running out of bounds at the Tampa Bay 9. The second turnover of the quarter set up a 20-yard Matt Stover field goal, increasing the Ravens' lead to 17-0.

It was surprising for the Ravens to come away with three interceptions for the game after finishing with a franchise-low 12 last season. It wasn't surprising to see their 340-pound first-round pick lose his breath and not reach the end zone.

"You can't expect an 18-wheeler to go basically two cities," Scott said. "I'm just proud that he stayed up and we didn't have to carry him off the sideline."

The Ravens finished their scoring in the fourth quarter, when McNair hit Daniel Wilcox for a 4-yard score, his first touchdown pass as a Raven. It wrapped up another long drive (nine plays, 61 yards) as the Ravens went a long way yesterday to back up their high expectations this season.

"If you know football, you know we're going to be a hard team to beat," said Ray Lewis, who tipped a pass on fourth-and-goal to preserve the shutout.

Not only did the Ravens beat last year's NFC South Division champion (which returned nearly intact), but they also trumped last season's top-ranked defense. In what could be a familiar journey, the Ravens feel like they have pointed themselves in the right direction.

"We expect to be a top defense in the NFL," defensive coordinator Rex Ryan said. "We expect to go a long way as a team. This is a huge first step."

jamison.hensley@baltsun.com