Ominous sound in air is Baltimore Ravens defense

NASHVILLE

The noise in the distance sounds familiar. Perhaps you have heard it before.

At first, it sounds like the rumble of thunder in the distance. Listen more closely, and it is more like the snapping of teeth and the popping of pads. It is the sound of trouble brewing, and in its wake, you can hear the whimpering sounds of disappointment.

Clear the street and hide the kids, Tampa Bay.

The Baltimore Ravens may be headed your way again.

Once again, the defense of the Ravens went to another town and stomped all over the possibilities Saturday evening. Once again, it didn't matter where they were, and it didn't matter how mightily their offense struggled, and it didn't matter how highly regarded their opponent happened to be.

For the Ravens, Team Deja Vu, all that mattered was staying upright in the NFL playoffs.

You know, just like the old days.

Look at the Ravens now, and you cannot help but think of them then. Yes, they have a different coach now than back in January 2001, when they won the last Super Bowl played in Tampa Bay. They have a different quarterback, and most of their roster has changed faces.

But the DNA is the same. The swagger is the same. The knack for stripping the ball away from the opponent is the same. Through two rounds of upsets, the footprints are the same. And here come the sixth-seeded Ravens, partying like it's 2001.

And at this point, you wonder: Who is going to stop them?

"The formula is the same," linebacker Ray Lewis said. "Don't turn the ball over and play hard-nosed defense. If you do that, you'll win most of your games. It doesn't matter where you play."

Back in January 2001, it didn't matter, either. Just ask the Titans.

Eight years ago, those Titans were also the No. 1 seed in the AFC, and around town, everyone seemed certain that Tennessee was on its way to the Super Bowl. Then the Ravens came in, their defense snarling and snapping, and upset Tennessee in its own stadium.

Perhaps that was why Saturday's game felt like such a sequel. Every time Tennessee's Kerry Collins — the quarterback the Ravens flummoxed so completely in the Super Bowl back when he played for the Giants — would drive his team within scoring range, the Ravens would calmly take it away.

Oh, there are differences. This defense isn't as big up front, and it doesn't smother offenses the way it did back then. The offense seems limited not because of the quarterback's ability but because of his inexperience. Somehow, you get the feeling the nuances will not comfort the fans in Nashville, who presumably are off writing sad country songs to capture the moment.

For the record, the Ravens don't want to hear the comparisons to the old Ravens. Not yet, anyway.

Take safety Ed Reed. He listens to all the reasons why this team reminds an onlooker of that team, then he shakes his head.

"It's 2009, baby," he said. "We have a better offense now."

Yeah, maybe. The Ravens still don't ask much of rookie Joe Flacco, the same way they didn't ask much of veteran Trent Dilfer. But they let Flacco play enough Saturday that he showed off his arm on a couple of plays. And Flacco did move his team 51 yards for the winning field goal.

Still, this was a defensive victory. And what else would you expect?

"That team was the greatest ever," linebacker Terrell Suggs said. "They got a Lombardi Trophy. The only way we can be compared is if we get one. I guess next week will tell the difference. It doesn't mean anything if we don't win next week."

It was just about that moment when teammate Jarret Johnson looked at Suggs two lockers away and called him a rude name that, in the language of the locker room, translates to "soft." Suggs looked at Johnson and broke into laughter.

"On this defense, you aren't allowed to get hurt," said Suggs, who left the game with a shoulder injury. "That's why he called me that. Next week, I'm going to play as long as there is air in my lungs."

And Suggs laughed louder. It was the sound of winning, the sound of confidence, the sound of success.

Maybe you have heard that before, too.

The way things look, maybe you will hear it again.

Ominous sound in air is Baltimore Ravens defense 01/10/09 [Last modified: Sunday, January 11, 2009 7:59pm]

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