BALTIMORE – It had been a horrible day for Miami Dolphins linebacker Channing Crowder(notes). Last week he'd done that thing football players are prone to sometimes do and ranted about the Baltimore Ravens, in particular wide receiver Derrick Mason(notes), whom he called ''the old guy.''
And perhaps it worked because the Ravens so tore through the Miami defense in Sunday's 26-10 victory that suddenly Crowder stormed at them, screaming, arms waving so much that he had to be restrained by teammates.
Baltimore running back Le'Ron McClain had spit on him, he said.
''That punk McClain spit in my face,'' Crowder said according to an official transcript provided by the Ravens. "Write that down. He spit in my face. The referees told me they didn't see anything but I know what he did. And so does he.''
Maybe McClain spit on him. There was no conclusive evidence, no replay in super slow motion showing spittle flying across a windy afternoon. McClain said, predictably enough, that he didn't spit at Crowder. But what is a denial in matters of human expectoration?
Mason laughed at Crowder's rant and said: ''The first stage of respect is don't disrespect your opponent and he disrespected his opponent early in the game. You got to be able to back up your talk and the guy just didn't back it up. He was out there talking and woofing and we had to put him out of the game.
"Hopefully after this game he'll sit back and realize what type of player he truly is. He's not one of the elite players in the game.''
In other words, the Ravens are back.
Baltimore has always needed a little nasty in its football team. The best Ravens teams were the ones who were the angriest, who growled at the line, hit opponents a little harder and always seemed to have something to say in the scrums on the turf.
It isn't that Baltimore had grown nice this season, but with a new offensive conversion, with the addition of three receivers – Anquan Boldin(notes), Donte' Stallworth(notes) and T.J. Houshmandzadeh(notes) – the vicious defense had lost a little bite. It's not unusual for a team, upon finding a significant offense, to lose a defensive edge. The games move too fast, they stop being about a battle over turf.
The problem was Baltimore's offense wasn't moving enough to counter the defense's slippage. Going into Sunday's game the Ravens were ranked 14th in the league in offense and 10th in defense, 19th in turnover ratio. Hardly the numbers of a playoff team let alone a Super Bowl contender.
Even more shocking, Baltimore had allowed quarterbacks to throw for 290 or more yards in the previous three games before Sunday's.
So maybe Flacco was right. Perhaps Crowder did the Ravens a favor. By the end of Sunday's victory, the Super Bowl suddenly seemed like a real possibility. Until Sunday, this had been a concept in the abstract for the Ravens: one determined by a scan of the roster in which enough of the old defensive names remained and were joined by many more on the offense.
But this is the trick of teams that should be as good as Baltimore. Sometimes it takes awhile for the greatness to come.
Sunday it did with an offense that generated 402 yards and a defense that seemed better than the 289 it gave up. Not to mention the frustration of Channing Crowder who in between his rants about Mason and McClain conceded that the Dolphins had come into the game ''well-prepared'' and yet were overwhelmed. The only consolation he could take from the thrashing was that Miami kept Baltimore out of the end zone enough times that the Ravens had to settle for five field-goal attempts.
''At least we stopped them at some point,'' he said.
It's frightening to see how good Baltimore can become. Sunday was a glimpse of the talent it has amassed on each side of the ball. If Flacco can find his new fleet of receivers, if running back Ray Rice(notes) can have 180 yards of offense as he did on Sunday and the defense can be as good as it was on Sunday with three interceptions, the Super Bowl might indeed finally come.
Since when has Baltimore had such balance?
''I think we can still be a defensive-oriented team, Houshmandzadeh said late Sunday afternoon. ''Just don't give up many points and score lots ourselves as an offense. The crazy thing is, the way we were moving the ball today we should have had more points than we did. Wow.''
The punks are back.