Jaguars' Barker pins Ravens' hopes; Offense forced to start inside 20-yard line eight times after punts; JAGUARS 6, RAVENS 3


JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Jacksonville Jaguars linebacker Kevin Hardy might not have realized what he said when he was asked to talk about punter Bryan Barker after yesterday's 6-3 victory over the Ravens.

Barker had just placed a team-record eight punts inside the Baltimore 20-yard line, and that field position ensured that the Ravens wouldn't muster much scoring against the league's top-ranked defense.

"He's the best player in the league," Hardy said when asked to speak about Barker's impact on the game.

"The coach tells him to punt the ball in a certain spot and he does it. He does it all the time. I don't know too many punters who can place it right where they want it every time."

The best player? Hardy was surely speaking in hyperbole, but it isn't outrageous to assume that Barker was probably the best player on the field yesterday.

He averaged 42.6 yards on nine punts, and placed eight inside the Ravens' 18-yard line. His first two pinned Baltimore at the 2- and 7-yard lines, and he had four others that started Ravens' drives inside the 15.

Barker conceded he factored in the outcome, but he deflected praise.

"It just shows you that as a punt team we're working very well together," Barker said. "Maybe once in a while I put the ball out of bounds on my own. The rest of the time we have guys running down there, downing the ball themselves or making the tackle.

"Today, against Jermaine Lewis, you have to give the punt team a lot of credit.

"Anytime you can put an opposing offense inside the 20-yard line, especially against our defense, the chances of them scoring are almost zero this year."

The Ravens' offense did move the ball against the Jaguars' defense, but the poor field position -- the Ravens' average starting position was their own 19-yard line -- made it tough to score.

"We played in our back end the whole time and that's our fault offensively for not pushing it out, for not getting anything cranked up on special teams," Ravens coach Brian Billick said.

Jaguars coach Tom Coughlin credited the victory to his special teams.

"We're 8-1, and thank goodness for special teams and Bryan Barker," Coughlin said. "The overall control of the game was in the hands of our defense and our special teams."

Barker's performance -- plus his 44.1-yard average entering the game -- had Jaguars safety Donovin Darius already lobbying for Barker to make the Pro Bowl.

"If I had to name a player of the game, it would be Bryan Barker," Darius said. "Granted, the offense and defense are supposed to hold up our end, but it was just incredible what he did.

"It was a battle of field position today and his punts definitely gave us the advantage.

"It's like a turnover, pinning them back deep."

Barker might have earned the most attention, but he wasn't the only special teams standout. Dave Thomas blocked a punt in the second quarter, which led to Jacksonville's first field goal, and kicker Mike Hollis hit a pair of 28-yard field goals.

Hollis missed a 41-yard attempt in the fourth quarter after a strange sequence in which the Jaguars were penalized for holding and the Ravens were penalized for jumping offside.

Hollis made kicks on both of those plays, but he missed the 41-yard attempt wide right on the play following the offside penalty.

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