Grbac fails to add glitter to Ravens' solid defense play

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Last season the Baltimore Ravens won the Super Bowl with an efficient but unedifying mix of basic offence and unyielding defense. Inspired by their dominant linebacker Ray Lewis, the Ravens built the most intimidating defensive unit in the game's history and, if the evidence of Sunday's action is a reliable guide, they have lost none of their competitive edge.

Despite playing well below par, the Ravens restricted the visiting Chicago Bears to a pair of field goals. Their offence finally woke up late in the third quarter, the quarterback Elvis Grbac throwing a touchdown pass to Sam Gash, giving the defending champions a 10-6 lead.

Baltimore's grudging defense finished the job, intercepting Chicago's quarterback Shane Matthews twice in the last six minutes, a late touchdown run from Terry Allen only confirming their dominance.

Just like last season, however, Baltimore's offensive production leaves much to be desired. During the summer their head coach, Brian Billick, dispensed with the services of his limited quarterback, Trent Dilfer, opting instead for the more resourceful Grbac. The former Kansas City man struggled every bit as much as his predecessor.

"Any time you get a win under your belt you'll take it," he said. "Obviously we have a lot of room for improvement. To put your defense out there as much as we did for the first half, we have to improve."

The Ravens are among a group of contenders who began the 2001 campaign the right way. The New Orleans Saints were similarly emphatic in their 24-6 disposal of the Buffalo Bills. The Saints' quarterback, Aaron Brooks, threw three second half touchdowns but, just like the Ravens, New Orleans boast a commanding defense. Sammy Knight equalled a franchise record with three interceptions while Joe Johnson logged three of his side's five sacks.

Defensive excellence was evident in Texas too, where the Dallas Cowboys were manhandled by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Cowboys are coping badly with life without their talismanic quarterback, Troy Aikman, who retired during the summer. His replacement, Quincy Carter, has much to learn. Facing Tampa's rampant defense, the rookie completed only nine of 19 passes for a paltry 34 yards, giving up two interceptions and a fumble. His counterpart, Brad Johnson, ensured a Buccaneers victory with a fourth quarter touchdown run.

In a fascinating battle in Pennsylvania, the St Louis Rams seemed headed for a comfortable win over the Philadelphia Eagles. However, the home side scored a pair of touchdowns in the last 10 minutes, both of them from Cecil Martin, to send the game into overtime. The Rams held their nerve, Jeff Wilkins winning the game with a 25-yard field goal.

Late finishes featured elsewhere too. The Seattle Seahawks edged a dour struggle in Cleveland when Rian Lindell converted a 52-yard field goal with three seconds left. The San Francisco 49ers took their first lead of the game against Atlanta when Jose Cortez converted a 24-yard kick with only eight seconds remaining, while Sebastian Janikowski's 30-yard effort with 15 seconds on the clock helped the Oakland Raiders see off Kansas City.

Surprises were in short supply although Tennessee were not expected to lose at home to the Miami Dolphins, and the Minnesota Vikings fell to the Carolina Panthers, for whom quarterback Chris Weinke enjoyed an impressive NFL debut.

Indianapolis put up the biggest score of the night, 45-24 winners over the Jets in New York. The running back Edgerrin James scored a pair of touchdowns, finishing with 135 rushing yards.

The San Diego Chargers managed only a single victory last season. They have already equalled that feat following a commanding 30-3 triumph over the ailing Washington Redskins. Tim Dwight started the rout with an 87-yard punt return, providing swift revenge for San Diego assistant coach Norv Turner, sacked as Washington's head man last season.

NFL Results: New Orleans 24 Buffalo 6; Cincinnati 23 New England 17; Seattle 9 Cleveland 6; Tampa Bay 10 Dallas 6; Green Bay 28 Detroit 6; Carolina 24 Minnesota 13; Indianapolis 45 NY Jets 24; Jacksonville 21 Pittsburgh 3; Baltimore 17 Chicago 6; Oakland 27 Kansas City 24; St Louis 20 Philadelphia 17 (OT); San Diego 30 Washington 3; San Francisco 16 Atlanta 13 (OT); Miami 31 Tennessee 23.