R. Lewis is a gang of one on defense; 60-yard INT return only thing to beat 14-tackle LB; Ogden bruised, relieved

THE BALTIMORE SUN

ST. LOUIS -- He filled holes and stuffed running backs before they could get started. He fought through blocks and turned potential big plays into minimal gains. He raced downfield to make tackles. He flew into the backfield and dropped the quarterback. He nearly turned an interception into his team's first touchdown of the year.

In short, Ravens middle linebacker Ray Lewis was, well, Ray Lewis.

After yesterday's season-opening, 27-10 loss to the St. Louis Rams, as he slumped wearily on a stool in front of his locker, it was hard to tell if Lewis was more frustrated or exhausted.

"I'm tired, I'm tired. I'm a working man," Lewis said.

And work he did. Lewis, already recognized by many as the premier middle linebacker in the NFL, already with two Pro Bowl trips behind him, started his fourth season with another Pro Bowl effort.

Fourteen solo tackles. One sack. One pass deflection. One interception, followed by a 60-yard return.

Although the Ravens' defense reeled and wobbled without a discernible pass rush and a secondary that allowed open spots the Rams exploited at will, Lewis remained the rock on which the Ravens continue to lean.

"Sometimes I wish I could just sit back and watch him. He's an exciting player to watch," Ravens rookie cornerback Chris McAlister said of Lewis. "I'm happy to be out there on the field with him."

At least we know Lewis isn't superhuman. At the end of the Rams' third possession, near the end of the first quarter, St. Louis was knocking on the Baltimore end zone. That's when Lewis, anticipating quarterback Kurt Warner perfectly, stepped in front of wide receiver Ricky Proehl at the 7 to pick off Warner's pass, then raced down the left sideline.

By the time he raced past midfield, with Warner in hot pursuit, a tiring Lewis had slowed down and tried to cut around him. Proehl caught Lewis from behind at the Rams' 33.

"When I broke on the ball, I knew I was in trouble. That was a long drive, and I didn't have any gas left," Lewis said.

Lewis had enough gas left to record eight more solo tackles before halftime. Now, if only the rest of the defense would catch up to him.

"It's easy to come into this game thinking we're going to be good," Lewis said. "But being good is not just working during the week. Being good is coming in at game time and doing the same good things you've done in practice. Being good is doing it consistently, over and over."

Like Ray Lewis.

McCrary, Boulware struggle

Defensive end Michael McCrary looked like a guy who hadn't played in nine months. Outside linebacker Peter Boulware looked like a guy who had barely played in 1999.

McCrary, tasting his first action since missing all of the preseason with knee and contract negotiation problems, recorded three solo tackles. But his pass rushing left much to be desired. Part of the problem could be traced to tired legs that were tested for the first time yesterday. A big part of the problem was St. Louis left tackle Orlando Pace, who, at a hefty 320 pounds, ate up McCrary for much of the day.

"The motor was there, but I didn't have a lot of wind," said McCrary, who was second in the NFL with 14.5 sacks last year. "I thought I could do it. I didn't pass rush like I wanted to. I know I could have rushed better."

As for Boulware, his pass rushing was basically nonexistent. The best news that came out of his performance was Boulware's injured right shoulder survived, thanks to the harness he wore.

"I'm a little sore, but I feel all right. I'm good enough to play," said Boulware, a Pro Bowler last season who did not have a tackle. "You want to be as natural as you can, but the harness is there. It's something I'm going to have to play with the whole year. There's no excuse for us not getting to the quarterback."

Bruise is relief to Ogden

Left tackle Jonathan Ogden was smiling, relieved that his scary moment turned into something less serious.

Ogden suffered a bruised left hip on the first play of the second quarter, which forced Ogden to turn into a defender. Quarterback Scott Mitchell threw an ill-advised pass to fullback Chuck Evans, which Rams cornerback Todd Lyght picked off, then lateraled to Taje Allen, who returned the ball 36 yards. Ogden was injured diving for Allen on the sideline.

Ogden did not return. He says he will play next week, although all bets are off on how well he will be moving today.

"Stuff happens out there. I was blocking somebody, then I saw some dude catching and lateraling. I don't know how it all came to pass," Ogden said. "Hopefully, medication will knock [the pain] out. They think it's a deep muscle bruise, they don't think it's on the bone. If that's true, it should clear up pretty fast. If this happened on grass [St. Louis has artificial turf], I'd be fine."

Not so special teams

The Ravens' coverage teams provided enough adventures to remind fans of their lousy preseason showing.

On Baltimore's first punt, punter Kyle Richardson saved a touchdown by tackling Az-Zahir Hakim after a 35-yard return. After the Rams had taken a 3-0 lead, the ensuing 50-yard kickoff return by Corey Harris was nullified by a holding penalty. Later in the second quarter, the Ravens covered a punt perfectly and had the Rams pinned inside their 5. But James Trapp was flagged for a personal foul.

"Special teams are the most team-oriented plays in the game," Harris said. "I don't read a cut, if the kickoff isn't deep enough, if one guy messes up an assignment, the whole play can break down."

Kicker Matt Stover also missed a pair of 54-yard field-goal attempts. Based on his history, it wasn't surprising. Since 1993, Stover has made one of seven attempts from beyond 50 yards. Then again, he was kicking in the climate-friendly Trans World Dome.

"I wasn't surprised [Billick] allowed me to kick them," Stover said. "I thought they were within my range. Actually, I hit them good. It wasn't like I shanked them. There were no excuses. The snap, the hold, everything was clean."

A challenge unmet

Rams defensive end Grant Wistrom got a break when Ogden went out with an injury, but Wistrom thought he would have had a good day if Ogden had stayed in.

"There was a drop-off between Ogden and the guy who came in [Spencer Folau], but I thought I was doing pretty good against Jonathan," Wistrom said. "I kind of wish he had been able to play the whole game. I'd have liked to have seen what I could have done against him. I thought I was going to hold my own against him [Ogden]."

4 put Ravens line on floor

St. Louis' front four, notably ends Kevin Carter and Wistrom, who combined for three of the team's five sacks, kept the pressure on Mitchell all day.

"We were able to get pressure with the four-man front. We feel we can get pressure on the football with just four [without blitzing]," Wistrom said.

Carter, who dominated right tackle Harry Swayne, said, "Looking at them on film, we thought our front four could really take advantage of their offensive line and get around them."

Et cetera

Ravens wide receiver Billy Davis (turf toe), running back Priest Holmes (sprained knee) and wide receiver Justin Armour (concussion) were injured, but each returned to play. Armour took a shot to the head after making a reception for a first down early, then dropped a pass on the next play. Said Armour: "First game, trying to be tough. I had no business being in there. I should have taken myself out of the game on the previous play." Armour sat out the rest of the first quarter. The Ravens de-activated running back Jay Graham, linebacker Brad Jackson, offensive linemen Edwin Mulitalo and James Atkins, defensive tackle Martin Chase, tight end A. J. Ofodile and their new No. 3 quarterback, Tony Banks.

Sun staff writer Vito Stellino contributed to this article.

For openers

Yesterday's loss dropped the Ravens' Week 1 record to 1-3:

Date ...............Opponent ..............Result

9-10-96 ............Oakland ...............W, 19-14

8-31-97 ...........Jacksonville ...........L, 28-27

9-6-98 ..............Pittsburgh .............L, 20-13

9-12-99 ............at St. Louis ...........L, 27-10

Pub Date: 9/13/99

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