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Broncos' defense shines again in victory over Ravens

Oct 10, 2006 - 3:44 AM DENVER (Ticker) -- The Baltimore Ravens still have one of the best defenses in the NFL, but the Denver Broncos' unit just may be at the head of the class.

The Broncos intercepted Steve McNair three times and contained Jamal Lewis as they handed the Ravens their first defeat of the season with a rain-soaked 13-3 victory.

Denver (3-1) became just the second team since 1940 to allow only one touchdown through its first four games. The Broncos have surrendered a total of 34 points this season, allowing only nine field goals and a relatively meaningless touchdown to the New England Patriots in Week Three.

"Our defense has been pretty consistent this year," Denver coach Mike Shanahan said. "Hopefully we can continue to play the defense that we've been playing. Any time you give up one touchdown in four games, that's a little bit unusual. That's pretty impressive."

"We heard the hype about (the Ravens), but the thing is we have a pretty good defense too," added cornerback Champ Bailey, who had one of the Broncos' picks. "We proved that tonight."

Coming off a bye week, the Broncos' offense looked for most of the evening like it was not ready to resume the season. They managed only a pair of field goals by Jason Elam and a late touchdown by Rod Smith, but were fortunate their defense stepped up on the Monday night stage.

Darrent Williams and Domonique Foxworth also intercepted McNair, who threw for just 165 yards on 20-of-34 passing. Denver's unheralded defensive line was especially active, holding Lewis to 43 yards on 15 carries.

"(The Broncos' defense) is very athletic and very schemed," said Ravens coach Brian Billick, whose team's final eight possessions resulted in five punts and three interceptions. "They are a great defense. We expected them to be and they showed up."

Contained for most of the night, Jake Plummer finished 13-of-24 for 106 yards for the Broncos, who improved to 14-4 coming off bye weeks. Tatum Bell also chipped in offensively, rushing 19 times for 92 yards.

"It's always tough to play in those type of conditions," said Shanahan, whose offense managed just 222 yards in the persistent rain. "I think Jake would like to have a couple of (his throws) back, but you have to find a way to do it when it counts and he did that. So, I'm pretty proud with the way he fought."

With the score tied at 3-3 with less than 13 minutes remaining, Ravens rookie Sam Koch shanked a 10-yard punt that gave the Broncos the ball at their own 36. Plummer led the offense 39 yards in 10 plays, capped by Elam's 44-yard field goal with 8:08 to play.

On Baltimore's next possession, McNair was intercepted by Williams, who stepped in front of a pass intended for Mark Clayton with 6:47 left. Eight plays later, Plummer hooked up with Smith, who beat Chris McAlister in the right corner of the end zone to cap the scoring.

"We saw on film that we had the chance to get the fade there," Plummer said. "I just threw it up there for Rod and he was able to come down with it."

The first-half offense consisted of a pair of field goals, with Baltimore (4-1) needing a turnover to set up its only points.

On the Broncos' initial possession, Bell was stripped by defensive end Terrell Suggs and McAlister recovered along the sideline at the Denver 40. The Ravens got one first down before they were forced to settle for Matt Stover's 24-yard kick.

"We were never in a rhythm," Ravens tight end Todd Heap said. "We never had a drive the length of the field. It was a frustrating night to come out with just three points."

Elam made it 3-3 with a 43-yard field goal with 4:54 to play before halftime. Williams set up the drive with a 33-yard punt return.

"We stuck together tonight," Plummer said. "It was pretty ugly, but we got some drives going when it counted."

Bailey intercepted McNair in the end zone - his 30th career pick - with 30 seconds left in the first half.

"It's always the difference in a game, the red zone," Bailey said. "We kept them from getting a field goal, and kept them from getting a touchdown. Obviously it was a big play."

That sequence was the major reason Baltimore failed to get into the end zone in either of its two red zone attempts. Billick knows that type of offensive deficiency rarely translates into victories in the NFL.

"Turnovers are always huge," he said. "I know it is cliche, but turnovers are always critical to a game."

The loss by the Ravens leaves the Indianapolis Colts and Chicago Bears, who both sit at 5-0, as the only remaining undefeated teams.

The Bears also are riding the tails of their superb defense, which has allowed a total of 36 points in five games. But these days, the Broncos will take their unit over any other in football.

"It's a great accomplishment, but it's only a start," Denver linebacker Al Wilson said. "It's not where we would like to be. I think we can shut out anyone in the league."

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