BALTIMORE - Take a relentless defense and a punishing running back, add a few potential distractions and top it all off with a healthy dose of arrogance.
What have you got? The Baltimore Ravens' patented recipe for Super Bowl success.
It wasn't enough that Baltimore retained all but one starter from a team that last year went 10-6 and entered the playoffs as AFC North champions. It didn't matter that Jamal Lewis, who ran for 2,066 yards last season, faces a November court date on drug conspiracy charges, or that safety Corey Fuller and linebacker Terrell Suggs also must cope with pending court cases.
The Ravens evidently felt the need to throw something real spicy into the mix, so they signed look-at-me-please defensive back Deion Sanders, who ended his three-year retirement for the simple reason he believed this team is capable of winning the Super Bowl for second time in five years.
"I see this as one of the best defenses ever assembled," he said.
The addition of Sanders to a formidable unit that includes four Pro Bowlers, including standout middle linebacker Ray Lewis, should make the Ravens difficult to score upon. If Jamal Lewis can avoid missing too much practice time while in court - and stay out of jail - then the offense should be OK, even if second-year quarterback Kyle Boller doesn't excel.
The Ravens don't expect their off-field woes to be a problem. To the contrary, they seem to thrive on controversy. Baltimore won the Super Bowl in January 2001 after Ray Lewis and his teammates spent the entire season coping with an endless barrage of questions about his murder trial in Atlanta in the spring of 2000.
This year's team again has more to think about than game plans and division matchups. Jamal Lewis is charged with trying to set up a cocaine buy, Fuller is accused of running a high-stakes card game and Suggs faces assault charges stemming from an altercation in an Arizona parking lot.
That's OK with coach Brian Billick, who has yet to meet a situation he didn't believe he could handle.
"We believe in the character of those young men and the character of this team," he said.
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