BALTIMORE (AP)—The defense returned to form, the offense matched the standard it set one week earlier, and the special teams were spectacular.
It added up to the most lopsided victory in the history of the Baltimore Ravens, a 44-6 rout of the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday that served as a perfect tuneup for next week’s clash for first place in the AFC North.
Ray Lewis returned an interception 29 yards for a touchdown to cap a 17-point flurry in the second quarter, and the rejuvenated Ravens cruised past the road-weary 49ers.
“This is a complete game for us, the kind of game we’re capable of having,” Ravens coach Brian Billick said. “It’s what we’re going to need the rest of the way to get done what we want to get done.”
That would be a return to the playoffs following a one-year absence. Baltimore can take a huge step in that direction next week against Cincinnati, which beat Pittsburgh to remain tied with the Ravens atop the division.
The Bengals beat Baltimore in Cincinnati earlier this season, and the Ravens have been itching for the rematch.
“Now we can focus on Cincinnati. Everybody else is out of the way,” Lewis said.
One week earlier, the Ravens trailed Seattle by 14 points at halftime and by 17 in the fourth quarter before rallying to win. Baltimore (7-5) took a far easier path against the 49ers, building a 24-6 halftime lead before coasting.
“Our offense is definitely setting a trend,” said Gary Baxter, who had a key interception. “They’re setting a standard to do that every week. And that’s what we want them to do.”
But also give credit to the offense, which has been on a roll since breaking a drought of eight quarters without a touchdown against Seattle.
“Our mentality was to come out and prove that last week wasn’t a fluke,” said Anthony Wright, who threw two touchdown passes.
The return of quarterback Jeff Garcia did nothing to change the fortune of the 49ers (5-7), who fell to 0-6 on the road. Back from a three-game absence with a sprained ankle, Garcia went 14-for-29 for 112 yards with a career-high four interceptions before being pulled early in the fourth quarter.
“It’s like a bad nightmare. All four interceptions, one way or another, were deflected,” Garcia said. “When it started to go downhill, it went downhill fast. We couldn’t find a way to stop the steam.”
It was San Francisco’s worst loss since a 41-3 defeat against Jacksonville in September 1999.
“It was an embarrassing game,” 49ers coach Dennis Erickson said. “We didn’t play well in all aspects, starting with me.”
The game turned in the second period, when Baltimore converted a precarious 7-6 lead into an 18-point cushion in the span of 1 minute, 25 seconds.
First, Stover kicked a 28-yard field goal following a 75-yard kickoff return by Brightful. After a San Francisco punt, Wright threw a 38-yard touchdown pass to Marcus Robinson—the fifth time in two weeks the duo hooked up for a score.
It took only 14 seconds for Baltimore to add another touchdown. On second down from the San Francisco 20, Garcia threw a pass that deflected off receiver Cedrick Wilson to Lewis. He high-stepped down the right sideline for a score with 32 seconds left in the half.
“The turnover and the touchdown, that’s 14 quick points,” Garcia said. “That just created a deeper hole for us to come out of.”
Lewis’ first regular-season interception return for a touchdown was merely one facet of a redemptive performance by the Baltimore defense, which was burned for five touchdown passes and 41 points by Seattle.
The Ravens limited the 49ers to 10 first downs and held star receiver Terrell Owens to three catches for 23 yards.
The first time Owens touched the ball, it proved beneficial for the Ravens. A high pass from Garcia deflected off Owens’ outstretched hand to Baltimore’s Ed Hartwell, whose first career interception led to a 6-yard touchdown run by Jamal Lewis.
The 49ers countered with two field goals by Todd Peterson, but that’s allthey would get.
Line Judge Carl Johnson received a concussion near the end of the second quarter during the Ravens’ celebration of Ray Lewis’ TD. … The 49ers have an interception in eight successive games. … 49ers RB Garrison Hearstsprained his right knee in the third quarter and did not return.