Line straightens up its act

The Baltimore Sun

Missed blocks, penalties, a costly turnover - the first half couldn't have gotten much worse for the Ravens' offensive line yesterday against the visiting Atlanta Falcons.

But the second half was an entirely different story for the unit as the offensive line registered one of its most dominating performances this season in the Ravens' 24-10 victory at M&T; Bank Stadium.

"It was awesome," quarterback Steve McNair said of the line's effort. "The chemistry is there. You know it in the running game and in the passing game."

After amassing just 111 yards and zero points in the first half, the offense turned the tide in the second frame, collecting 217 yards and 24 points.

The line played a significant role in that reversal as the unit helped carve out 96 rushing yards in the second half, opened enough holes for running back Jamal Lewis to tie his career high of three rushing touchdowns, and surrendered just one sack of McNair.

That showing was a welcome departure from the first half when the offensive line managed to produce just 7 yards rushing, was flagged four times for false starts, and ended a possession at Atlanta's 14-yard line with a botched snap between McNair and center Mike Flynn toward the end of the second quarter.

"I think in the first half, we knew that the problems were all caused by us," said right tackle Tony Pashos, who criticized himself for committing two false starts. "Coming in here at halftime and looking each other in the eye and hearing what the coaches had to say to us, we had a lot of pride and knew that it wasn't us. We answered the call."

Flynn said the key in the second half was recognizing that the Falcons were playing a cover-2 defense to prevent any long passes downfield. That, Flynn said, played into the offense's decision to run the ball.

"It puts a little pressure on us and kind of throws a little challenge at us," Flynn said. "So it became a running game and a nickel-and-dime game, and fortunately, we got it cranked up when we started running some plays that we're good at. Jamal got cranked up, and it's a good feeling."

Lewis, who had 91 yards on 22 carries, credited the line with creating lanes for him and Musa Smith (five carries for 19 yards) to run through.

"The coaches told us to be physical, execute, and run the football," Lewis said. "I think the offensive line took that to heart."

With two of the next three games against top 15 defenses in the Pittsburgh Steelers and Kansas City Chiefs, the offensive line realizes that yesterday was simply a good start and not the finish.

"Today was a good confidence booster," left guard Jason Brown said. "We know we can do it, and we need to keep doing it."

edward.lee@baltsun.com

STREAK ENDS FOR STOVER

Kicker Matt Stover's bid to extend his consecutive field-goal streak came to an abrupt end yesterday when his 42-yard attempt strayed left in the first quarter.

The miss ended Stover's string at 36, which ranks as the third-longest streak in NFL history behind Mike Vanderjagt's 42 with the Indianapolis Colts between 2002 and 2004 and Gary Anderson's 40 with the San Francisco 49ers and Minnesota Vikings between 1997 and 1998.

"I messed up," Stover said. "It was nothing to do with the snap or hold. I missed it wide left. I try to never miss it wide left. I did, and that means I pulled it just a little bit. Lesson learned, mistake made and move on to the next kick as quickly as you can, which we did, and make the next one. That's what it's about."

Stover, who hadn't missed a field-goal attempt since Oct. 31, 2005, when a 43-yard try against the Pittsburgh Steelers bounced off the right upright, bounced back with a 29-yard field goal early in the third quarter and is now 17-for-18 this season.

But Stover admitted that he was disappointed about the streak ending.

"I'd be lying if I said I didn't [think about the streak], but it wasn't at the forefront of my mind," he said. "It was there. People didn't want to talk about it because they were afraid it would jinx me, but I didn't look at it like that. I think of it as a positive thing, that you've been able to do something like that and put your team in position to win ballgames."

CHESTER GETS FIRST START

Rookie offensive lineman Chris Chester earned his first career start yesterday, playing in place of right guard Keydrick Vincent, who was sidelined by a groin injury.

Chester, a second-round pick and the 56th overall selection in April, said he did not feel too anxious during the game.

"It's pretty easy to kind of psych yourself out and feel like, 'Well, I'm going up against Pro Bowlers,'" Chester said. "But you've got to keep some perspective on how good you are. This is a great organization, and they drafted you because they think you can contribute to the team."

Linebacker Jarret Johnson made his first start of the season at outside linebacker as Bart Scott shifted to the middle to fill the role of Ray Lewis, who was out with a bruised back.

Johnson and linebacker Dan Cody, the team's second-round pick in 2005 who made his first appearance in a game as a Raven, were each credited with one tackle.

INJURY UPDATE

The Ravens escaped the game relatively injury-free with the notable exception of tight end Daniel Wilcox, who pulled his right hamstring early in the third quarter.

Wilcox, who said he probably will undergo a magnetic resonance imaging test, said he didn't know his status for Sunday's home game against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

"Pretty sore," Wilcox said of his hamstring. "I was running a route, and I planted and tried to push off with it, and I just felt a grab."

Meanwhile, the Ravens placed linebacker Mike Smith (dislocated shoulder) on injured reserve, ending the second-year player's season. The team promoted guard Ikechuku Ndukwe to fill Smith's roster spot.

In addition to Vincent, the team also deactivated linebacker Ray Lewis, cornerbacks David Pittman and Derrick Martin, running backs P.J. Daniels and Cory Ross, wide receiver Devard Darling and defensive tackle Dwan Edwards.

EXTRA POINTS

Ravens defensive end Trevor Pryce said Ray Lewis has a future in motivational speaking. "I'm a hard guy to get motivated," Pryce said. "I get motivated because this is my job, and I don't want to lose my job, but after he got done, I was like, 'Whoa!' I was ready to go play the game, and that's never happened with me." ... Yesterday was the first time this season the Ravens' defense had not recorded a sack and interception in the same game. ... The 11th annual Ravens Family Food and Funds Drive raised $17,500 and 1,150 pounds of food yesterday.

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