Time is on Ravens' side again

The Baltimore Sun

The Ravens won a franchise-record 13 regular-season games.

For the 13th time this season, they won the time of possession.

It's no coincidence: A football team that controls the ball in turn controls the scoreboard. Quarterback Steve McNair isn't going to produce the highlights of Peyton Manning and get his face time, but the Ravens are following a venerable formula, one that has produced plenty of Super Bowl champions.

A cumulative effect takes hold when the Ravens get a lead, their defense forces a series of three and outs, and an opponent playing catch-up has to throw the ball.

As the game lengthens, Jamal Lewis becomes more of a factor. The fresher the defense remains, the more dangerous it becomes, and the NFL's best turnover margin increases.

That personality was established in the season opener at Tampa Bay when the Ravens held the ball for nearly 36 minutes. Yesterday, the Ravens controlled it for 36:21, and that wasn't even a season high, as they had it longer in the win at New Orleans and the one over Cincinnati, the first two games after Brian Billick took over the play-calling.

San Diego and Carolina are the only Ravens opponents this season to have the ball longer than 31 minutes. Since Billick became offensive coordinator, Tennessee is the only opponent to win the time of possession, and even in that Ravens comeback McNair and Co. had it for more than 29 minutes.

Yesterday, the Ravens took the opening kickoff, then held the ball for 13 plays and more than seven minutes before Matt Stover kicked the first of his four field goals. They controlled the ball for nearly 11 minutes in the fourth quarter, when Lewis had seven of his 20 carries.

"When we go into that grinding mode, that's pretty much it," Lewis said. "We know what's at stake and we have to take time off the clock.

It's the kind of game an offensive lineman loves.

"It seemed like the whole game, we were on the field," center Mike Flynn said. "The thing that we've done all year is that we've held onto the ball and had a pretty good time of possession.

"The one thing we didn't do tonight is when the defense gave us a turnover in the red zone, we didn't score. Field goals aren't good enough. When we look at the film and critique our offense, we're not going to be happy with all those field goals. Touchdowns win championships."

Flynn was surrounded by a patchwork offensive line, which the guys on the other side of the locker room noticed.

"Our offense, we've got great depth at receiver," linebacker Bart Scott said. "We've got great depth at running back, with Mike [Anderson] spelling Jamal. We've seen the depth on the line, guys going down and guys filling in."

In years past, there was friction between an under-performing offense and the Ravens' star-studded defense, but the latter group appreciates the rest it has gotten this season during games. Its collective motor was running in the second half, when it forced three turnovers.

Both of the Bills' giveaways in the third quarter came on the second play of a drive.

You need both units working to keep the opponent's defense on the field, and while Chris McAlister's interception return made the highlights, the Ravens' defense relishes a three and out nearly as much as a turnover. Buffalo didn't get a first down until the 19th minute, and all four of its first-half possessions ended in punts.

The offense didn't get a touchdown, but it did produce a vital drive that encompassed the end of the third quarter and the start of the fourth.

Starting at their 2-yard line, the Ravens moved 58 yards in eight plays before another clutch punt by rookie Sam Koch made Buffalo start on its 4.

"When your offense is moving the ball and you've got our defense, when your special teams are helping win the field position game, that's fun," Stover said. "The synergy on this team, it's just breeding confidence in one another."


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