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December 06, 2001

Top D destined for breakup
By Dan Patrick

TAMPA -- As we pack up the trucks and head back to Bristol, Super Bowl XXXV is fading from my memory. I wanted to share a few thoughts on the NFL season just ended.

Trent Dilfer
Trent Dilfer's passing was good enough for a ring, but it won't get him a new contract in Baltimore.

Say what you will about Trent Dilfer, but he belongs in the same class as Steve Young, Joe Montana, Phil Simms and Doug Williams. His numbers don't belong with theirs, but he's in the club. He won the Super Bowl by doing what he was asked to do. He understood, and more important, he accepted his role in the Baltimore Ravens' offense. A former first-round draft pick swallowed his pride and became a "just don't lose it for us" quarterback.

Dilfer had to fight the urge to do the very thing that Kerry Collins was asked to do: win the game. Collins tried to win the game and he ended up throwing four interceptions. In the game of his life, Dilfer showed the restraint and control that eluded him as a Buccaneer. As a result, he won a Super Bowl in Tampa.

Ray Lewis was the main focus of the pregame scrutiny. And while he played well, he really did not deserve the MVP trophy. They should have given it to the whole Baltimore defense. Just like they should have given it to the entire Denver offensive line when the Broncos beat the Packers in XXXII. Why single out one guy from the ultimate, cohesive unit? And if you do single out one guy, make it the other Lewis from that defense -- Marvin.

Anyway, we'll remember this Ravens' defense for a while. They will probably go down as one of the greatest single-season defenses of all time. They will also probably not be able to get into the "best defense ever" discussion because they will have trouble staying together. Marvin Lewis, himself, is all but gone. Free agency will wear away at the team and the replacements will not measure up. But for one year, they were as good as it gets.

The man in charge, Brian Billick, has a lot of thinking to do as he heads into next season. Does he keep Dilfer or does he try to get a QB who can play the offense of Billick's dreams? You know Billick would love to win a Super Bowl 42-10 and I don't see Dilfer pulling that off. Maybe Billick will keep Dilfer if he thinks the D can still be so dominating.

Free agency will wear away at the [Ravens' defense] and the replacements will not measure up. But for one year, they were as good as it gets.

The other big part of Billick's offseason will be finding a defensive coordinator. The new guy will have to be special to keep that defense playing at this year's level. One thing that will help the new guy is that GM Ozzie Newsome is likely to grab a gem in the draft.

In the last five years, Newsome has drafted Ray Lewis, Jonathan Ogden, Jermaine Lewis, Peter Boulware, Jamie Sharper, Kim Herring, Duane Starks, Chris McAlister and Jamal Lewis. Heck, they should have given the MVP to Ozzie.

As for the rest of us, we need to stop thinking that the reigning Super Bowl champion is a realistic blueprint for teams trying to become champions. You can't emulate the Rams' offense unless you can go find players like Marshall Faulk, Kurt Warner and Isaac Bruce and a coach like Mike Martz. And you can't do what Baltimore did this year without those 11 guys and Marvin Lewis.

Really, all the Ravens did was provide the latest example of one of the oldest axioms in football: defense wins championships. And they did it the year after the Rams blinded everyone with the science of their offense.

And if the pattern holds, next year's champ will have the best special teams the league has seen in years.

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