Tag Archive | "Brian Billick"

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Byrne reminisces about his quarter century never missing a Ravens game

Posted on 26 July 2020 by WNST Audio

His presence was the first here in Baltimore as a representative of what would become the Ravens franchise and a lifetime of football memories from Cleveland and St. Louis.

It was a pleasure to chat at length with the longtime public relations director and the conscience of the Baltimore Ravens from their inception in 1996 – now emeritus Senior Executive Vice President Kevin Byrne.

As he points out in this epic discussion, he’s not going too far away just yet…

 

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Ravens regular-season moment No. 1: Beating Jacksonville

Posted on 29 June 2020 by Luke Jones

Check out the No. 2 regular-season moment in Ravens history HERE and the entire top 25 list HERE.

Novelty and nostalgia had defined the Baltimore Ravens.

A new generation of Baltimoreans finally had a team after 12 years in the NFL doldrums, but the Ravens were much closer to being the Bengals than the Steelers in those early years, going 16-31-1 in their first three seasons and finishing no higher than fourth in the old AFC Central. General manager Ozzie Newsome was building a promising foundation anchored by left tackle Jonathan Ogden and middle linebacker Ray Lewis — two Pro Bowl talents and the first two draft picks in team history — but no one knew exactly when or if that work would pay off.

From playing their first two seasons at Memorial Stadium and hiring Ted Marchibroda as their first head coach to the Baltimore Colts marching band playing and Johnny Unitas and other legends attending games, the Ravens were draped in Baltimore football history. It was a smart and heartwarming nod to the past, but the organization ultimately needed its own legacy after relocating from Cleveland in 1996.

Those Ravens were somewhere between the old Browns and the new Colts, but they were nowhere near NFL relevancy.

The 1999 campaign brought flashes in December with the Ravens winning for the first time in Pittsburgh and blowing out eventual AFC champion Tennessee on their way to an 8-8 finish, but a couple good performances playing out the string after a 3-7 start couldn’t be viewed as a definitive breakthrough. Brian Billick’s second year as head coach would tell the truth.

Baltimore opened the 2000 season with an impressive 16-0 win at Pittsburgh, building on the significant defensive improvement shown during the previous season. But the bigger test would come in Week 2 when the Ravens hosted Jacksonville for the home opener at PSINet Stadium.

The Ravens had never beaten the Jaguars, who had become the class of the AFC Central shortly after their expansion start in 1995. An 0-8 mark consisting of squandered leads, the occasional blowout, and plenty of last-minute heartbreak best illustrated how far Baltimore still needed to come while Jacksonville was coming off its fourth straight postseason appearance, a 14-2 record, and a trip to the AFC Championship game.

No breakthrough appeared imminent in the first quarter as Pro Bowl quarterback Mark Brunell and Pro Bowl wide receiver Jimmy Smith shredded the Baltimore defense for 45- and 43-yard touchdown passes and Billick’s team trailed 17-0 at the end of the period. These looked like the same old Ravens.

Still trying to cement the starting job after a solid finish to 1999, quarterback Tony Banks threw a touchdown to rookie wide receiver Travis Taylor to put the Ravens on the board, but the rest of the second quarter wasn’t much better than the first with the Jaguars adding two more field goals to take a 23-7 lead into halftime. This wasn’t what anyone in Baltimore had wanted, but old habits die hard, especially against Jacksonville.

“At halftime, I told them one thing,” Billick said. “What I told them was, win or lose, it will make no difference. The second half will define who we are. How we conduct ourselves will define the kind of team we are.”

The Ravens took those words to heart coming out of the locker room as the offense needed only four plays to find the end zone with Banks throwing another touchdown to Taylor. A two-point conversion cut the deficit to 23-15 and brought a previously frustrated sold-out crowd to life.

A Banks interception on the next drive led to the fourth Mike Hollis field goal of the day, but the 27-year-old quarterback bounced back with a touchdown pass to fullback Obafemi Ayanbadejo, making the score 26-22 late in the third quarter. The stage was set for a thrilling final period.

After punting on their first possession of the fourth quarter, the Ravens collected their second takeaway of the day when outside linebacker Jamie Sharper forced a fumble and recovered the ball at the Jacksonville 12. Banks threw a touchdown to the speedy Jermaine Lewis on the next play as Baltimore took a 29-26 lead with 10 minutes to go.

Maybe it would be different this time.

That optimism only grew after safety Kim Herring intercepted Brunell on the next drive, setting up a 44-yard field goal by Matt Stover to increase the lead. The Jaguars answered with a 48-yard field goal as Baltimore still held a 32-29 advantage with time dwindling.

Having forced two turnovers leading to 10 points in the fourth quarter, the Ravens defense had regrouped from that ugly first half and now had its opportunity to cement that elusive first win against Jacksonville. However, Brunell and Smith still had 2:42 left to torment Baltimore one last time.

After picking up a first down to move into Ravens territory and now facing a third-and-6 from the 40 with 1:55 to go, Brunell faced a heavy blitz and heaved one deep toward wide receiver Keenan McCardell. What happened next seemed to be the cruelest trick yet in the Ravens-Jaguars history as the ball deflected off McCardell’s hands and right to Smith, who broke a Duane Starks tackle and jogged into the end zone for the go-ahead score. It was Smith’s third touchdown catch of the day as he finished with a whopping 15 catches and 291 yards, the most by an opponent in Ravens history.

Here we go again.

Despite erasing a 16-point halftime deficit to take the lead in the fourth quarter, the Ravens were trailing 36-32 with 1:45 to play and back in a familiar position with the Jaguars on the verge of improving to 9-0 against them. Only a few fans moved toward the exits while the remainder sat quietly, lamenting how this had happened again.

But the Ravens finally changed the script as Banks completed a pair of throws to little-used receiver and special-teams veteran Billy Davis — who made only one other catch all season — to move the Ravens into Jacksonville territory. A 12-yard completion to Ayanbadejo moved Baltimore to the 29-yard line before Banks spiked the ball to stop the clock with 48 seconds left.

To this point, the start of former Denver tight end Shannon Sharpe’s tenure with the Ravens had been quiet as he didn’t register a catch in the season opener and had only two receptions for 21 yards in the ongoing shootout. Newsome had not only been looking for more production at tight end with the high-profile signing that February, but he valued Sharpe’s pedigree as a seven-time Pro Bowl selection and a two-time Super Bowl champion for a franchise that was still learning how to win.

The time was perfect for a lesson.

Sharpe took off right down the seam at the snap and caught a 29-yard rope for the touchdown. The 32-year-old tight end danced and smiled in the end zone while Banks lifted his arms in celebration upon throwing his fifth touchdown of the game, a new team record.

The catch brought a roar louder than anything experienced in the brief history of the 69,000-seat stadium opposite Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Thousands of voices were lost, ears rang, and the upper deck swayed as Stover kicked the extra point to give the Ravens a 39-36 lead with 41 seconds left.

Goosebumps.

There would be no miracle answer from Jacksonville this time as safety Corey Harris intercepted Brunell on the last play of the game. Chants of “Let’s go, Ravens!” bounced down the ramps as departing fans celebrated.

Novelty and nostalgia had been replaced by an arrival.

It didn’t matter that it was only a Week 2 victory. Banks would lose his starting job to Trent Dilfer six weeks later and the Ravens would go five straight games without scoring a touchdown in the middle of that 2000 championship season, but that wasn’t the point. From that exhilarating moment, they were no longer the old Browns or even the new Colts. The Ravens were a viable NFL franchise and here to stay.

The last-minute win over Jacksonville had changed everything.

“It says we’re headed in the right direction,” said defensive end Michael McCrary, who had joined the Ravens in 1997. “It said that the offense had the confidence and composure to go down the field and score. It was a huge turnaround from our teams of the past.

“We’ve never beaten them, and we needed to know as a team where we stood.”

Now two decades later, the Ravens own two Super Bowl championships, have multiple Hall of Famers, and are among the NFL’s model franchises.

But that was the moment that started it all.

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Ravens regular-season moment No. 4: Ruining homecoming

Posted on 23 June 2020 by Luke Jones

Check out the No. 5 regular-season moment in Ravens history HERE.

The 2008 Ravens were a Cinderella story with the clock threatening to strike midnight.

Coming off a 5-11 campaign that resulted in the dismissal of longtime head coach Brian Billick, Baltimore had been one of the NFL’s biggest surprises with former Philadelphia special teams coordinator John Harbaugh now in charge. An elite defense and robust running game had led the Ravens to an impressive 9-5 record entering Week 16, easing the pressure on rookie first-round quarterback Joe Flacco.

But the Ravens were coming off a heartbreaking home loss to Pittsburgh that clinched the AFC North championship for the rival Steelers the previous Sunday. The margin for error was gone for even a wild-card spot with Indianapolis on its way to securing the No. 5 seed with a nine-game winning streak and New England having the same record as the Ravens despite losing all-world quarterback Tom Brady in the season opener. A daunting trip to Dallas to take on the playoff-hopeful Cowboys threatened to put Baltimore’s playoff hopes on life support.

The story was bigger than playoff ramifications, however, with “America’s Team” closing Texas Stadium with numerous Cowboys legends present for the nationally televised Saturday night affair and post-game ceremony to follow. The Ravens were keenly aware of rumors — later confirmed — that Dallas owner Jerry Jones had requested Baltimore as the final “homecoming” opponent to help close the iconic venue. There was also the matter of Cowboys offensive coordinator Jason Garrett having declined an offer to become the Ravens’ new head coach 11 months earlier, paving the way for Harbaugh to accept the job.

The script wouldn’t go as Jones and the rest of the football world anticipated.

Despite a DeMarcus Ware strip-sack of Flacco setting up an easy touchdown early in the first quarter, the Ravens suffocated the Cowboys offense for three quarters with All-Pro safety Ed Reed intercepting Tony Romo twice. Only red-zone inefficiency kept the game close with Dallas native Matt Stover booting three short field goals in the first half to give Baltimore a 9-7 lead that endured late into the third quarter.

Seemingly ready to settle for another field goal, the Ravens ran a fake with holder Sam Koch for a first down that set up a 13-yard touchdown pass from Flacco to veteran wideout Derrick Mason, who was playing with a painful shoulder injury. The score increased the lead to 16-7 and set the stage for one of the most memorable quarters in franchise history.

After registering no more than 24 yards on any of its first nine drives of the night, the Cowboys offense came alive to begin the final period with a 35-yard field goal to shrink the deficit to one score. The Ravens answered with another Stover field goal to make it 19-10 with 6:30 remaining, but Dallas wasn’t going away as Romo threw a 7-yard touchdown to future Hall of Famer Terrell Owens with 3:50 to play.

Trailing by just two and with all three timeouts remaining, the Cowboys knew their chances would come down to stopping the run with Ravens offensive coordinator Cam Cameron unlikely to take any chances with his rookie quarterback. To that point, the Cowboys had held Baltimore to a respectable 3.7 yards per carry and called a run blitz before running back Willie McGahee took the inside hand-off on first-and-10 from the 23.

Breaking a couple feeble tackle attempts, McGahee sprinted 77 yards for the touchdown before a stunned crowd of 63,800 that had finally come alive moments earlier. The second-longest touchdown in franchise history — for the moment — gave the Ravens a 26-17 lead with 3:32 to go.

But the Cowboys still weren’t finished as Romo moved his two-minute offense down the field, finding Pro Bowl tight end Jason Witten for a 21-yard touchdown pass to again make it a two-point game with 1:36 remaining. Still holding three timeouts and having scored on three straight drives against a tired Ravens defense, Dallas kicked the ball deep and again only needed to stop the run to keep hope alive.

On first-and-10 from his own 18-yard line, Flacco handed off to the 260-pound Le’Ron McClain.

Breaking a couple tackles before delivering a vicious stiff arm to Cowboys safety Ken Hamlin, the surprising Pro Bowl selection who led the 2008 team in rushing galloped 82 yards for the score, tying Jamal Lewis for the longest run in team history. Once again, the crowd was stunned.

On consecutive offensive snaps, McGahee and McClain had produced two of the three longest runs in Ravens history to deliver the knockout blow and close Texas Stadium for good. The outcome put Baltimore only a home win over lowly Jacksonville away from a playoff berth and an unforgettable run to the AFC Championship game.

The Ravens also took great satisfaction in ruining the party for the media darling Cowboys, who would also lose at Philadelphia the following week to miss the playoffs.

“We had a lot of politics that really made this game more fun,” outside linebacker Terrell Suggs said after the 33-24 win. “They personally recommended us as their homecoming opponent. We just fed off that. We fed off it the whole game.

“We hope they enjoy their ceremony tonight, but I guess we were the dynamite.”

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Ravens regular-season moment No. 7: “Something that you dream of”

Posted on 16 June 2020 by Luke Jones

Check out the No. 8 regular-season moment in Ravens history HERE.

The 2003 season was turning into a nightmare for the Ravens, who had fallen to 5-5 after two straight road losses to St. Louis and Miami.

Despite a top-shelf defense and a historic campaign from running back Jamal Lewis, Brian Billick’s team was struggling mightily on offense and down to third-string quarterback Anthony Wright. In his first start for Baltimore the previous week, the 27-year-old had committed three turnovers in a 9-6 overtime loss to the Dolphins, looking the part of a former undrafted quarterback making only his sixth career start.

Returning home to play Seattle in Week 12, the Ravens needed a win to stop the bleeding and to keep pace with surprising Cincinnati for first place in the AFC North. What was to come would be one of the most exciting games in the history of M&T Bank Stadium.

No one knew it early, however, as the teams combined for just six points in the first 29 minutes of play before a pair of touchdown passes by Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck in the final 30 seconds of the half — a disastrous fumble had given the ball back to Seattle after the first one — gave Seattle a 17-3 lead at intermission. Wright’s second start was looking much like the previous week as he went just 3-for-9 for 37 yards.

Something had to give.

The difference would be Wright’s former college teammate at South Carolina, Marcus Robinson, who had been a non-factor in his first season with the Ravens. Once a 1,400-yard receiver with Chicago, Robinson had caught only nine passes for 76 yards in his first nine games of 2003, showing little chemistry with rookie quarterback Kyle Boller.

Wright and Robinson connected for a 13-yard score to open the second half, the first touchdown scored by the Ravens in two weeks. The pair hooked up for two more touchdowns — 50-yard and 25-yard strikes — in the third quarter, but the problem was the vaunted Ravens defense that suddenly couldn’t stop the Seahawks. Hasselbeck threw three more touchdowns in the second half to give Seattle a 41-24 lead early in the fourth quarter.

Wright’s mojo temporarily stalled as the Ravens punted on back-to-back possessions, but the second resulted in a muff recovered by Baltimore at the Seattle 35. With the Ravens having a chance to shrink the deficit to two scores with a little over nine minutes to play, Lewis instead coughed up the ball on first down, giving possession right back to the Seahawks.

A comeback just wasn’t in the cards as a sizable portion of the home crowd began heading for the exits, resigned to a third straight loss going into Thanksgiving.

Or so we thought.

A bloodied Baltimore defense forced a three-and-out to set up a punt. Already showing a Hall-of-Fame ability to block punts in only his second season, safety Ed Reed used a beautiful inside swim move to block Tom Rouen’s kick, picked up the ball, and scored to make it a 41-31 game with 6:41 remaining. It was a remarkable play by Reed, but the touchdown felt too little, too late for those still watching.

On the next possession, Seattle picked up three first downs to move into field-goal range and continue draining clock before Pro Bowl inside linebacker and 2003 NFL Defensive Player of the Year Ray Lewis stripped Seahawks fullback Mack Strong of the football. Lewis recovered at his own 29 to give possession back to the Ravens with 4:16 to go, leaving a glimmer of hope for remaining fans.

Needing a miracle conversion of a fourth-and-28 coming out of the two-minute warning, Wright chucked a deep ball to Robinson that deflected off his hands and into the arms of fellow wide receiver Frank Sanders, giving Baltimore a first down at the 21.

Four plays later, Wright and Robinson found the end zone for a fourth time in the second half, trimming the deficit to 41-38 with 1:12 to go.

It again appeared over after an unsuccessful onside kick, but the Ravens still weren’t done. An unthinkable clock snafu by the officiating crew essentially granted Baltimore an extra timeout before the defense stuffed a fourth-and-1 Hasselbeck sneak to get the ball back with 39 seconds left. Two plays later, Wright threw another deep ball to Robinson incomplete, but a 44-yard pass interference call set up a Matt Stover 40-yard field goal to send the game to overtime.

Sometimes you’d rather be lucky than good.

After the Ravens defense forced a Seattle punt on the opening series of overtime, Wright went to the magical connection a final time, completing a 19-yard pass to Robinson on third-and-15 to put his team in field-goal range. After three more Jamal Lewis rushes, Stover booted the 42-yard field goal to complete the largest comeback victory in franchise history.

The amazing 44-41 win sparked a 5-1 finish to the regular season that resulted in the first AFC North championship in team history. And though the Ravens would erase larger deficits — all with more time remaining — in the years that followed, none were as dramatic or meaningful as that season-altering win.

Going 20-for-37 for 319 yards and a 119.1 passer rating, Wright wouldn’t come close to matching his career day for the remainder of that season and his tenure with the Ravens, but his four touchdown passes to Robinson rate among the most improbable single-game efforts in the history of the franchise. It was a day the journeyman quarterback would never forget.

“This is something that you dream of,” said an emotional Wright, whose wife gave birth to their second daughter later that evening. “This is something that you write in books. This is something you think would never happen to you.

“For us to come back and win this game was unimaginable.”

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Ravens regular-season moment No. 9: “He seems to always be around it”

Posted on 11 June 2020 by Luke Jones

Check out the No. 10 regular-season moment in Ravens history HERE.

Ed Reed never made a reception or logged a rushing attempt in his 12 NFL seasons.

He returned only 30 punts.

But no one was more dangerous or exciting with the football in his hands over the Ravens’ first two decades in Baltimore than the Hall of Fame safety. That was never more evident than in a Week 9 Sunday night meeting with Cleveland in 2004.

Reed had already starred on Sunday Night Football earlier that season, registering a strip-sack and returning the fumble for a 22-yard touchdown in a narrow Week 5 win at Washington. This time around, the 4-3 Ravens were hoping to avoid a rare sweep to the Browns and keep themselves in good position for a playoff push in the second half of the season.

The game played out like so many contests of the Kyle Boller era with the Ravens managing little offense beyond the physical running of Jamal Lewis and relying on a strong defense to do the heavy lifting. Despite falling behind early in the fourth quarter, Baltimore had retaken a 20-13 lead after an embarrassing 7-yard punt by Cleveland’s Derrick Frost and a 2-yard touchdown run by Lewis with just over seven minutes to go.

But the Browns weren’t finished as veteran quarterback Jeff Garcia steadily moved his maligned offense down the field and inside the Baltimore 10. Facing a second-and-goal from the 5 with under a minute remaining and needing a touchdown to force overtime, Garcia zipped a pass over the middle that went through the hands of tight end Aaron Shea and was quickly falling to the turf.

Reed had other ideas, however.

As the M&T Bank Stadium crowd exploded at the sight of the shoe-top interception, Reed had no intention of simply taking a knee to preserve the single-touchdown lead. That was never Reed’s style — even to his detriment on occasion — as he sprinted an electrifying 106 yards for the game-sealing touchdown, the longest interception return in NFL history.

(This is where I share what this moment meant to me on a very personal level during the most difficult week of my life. I said from the start of the list unveiling that I’ve enjoyed different perspectives along the way, so I hope you’ll appreciate this one.)

“He seems to always be around it when you need it,” said head coach Brian Billick about Reed’s game-saving play after the 27-13 win. “He kind of waited to the end to do it. Might have saved my heart a little bit if he’d have done it earlier.”

The breathtaking touchdown was the signature play of his 2004 NFL Defensive Player of the Year season that included a league-leading nine interceptions and a then-record 358 interception return yards, but it was far from the last time we’d see a play like that from Reed.

Against the New York Jets at the Meadowlands the very next week, Reed picked off another end-zone pass and returned it 104 yards despite a holding penalty wiping away the touchdown. Four years later, the nine-time Pro Bowl safety would top his own record with a 107-yard pick-6 against Philadelphia, albeit in a less dramatic situation (see below).

You just never knew what was going to happen when Reed got his hands on the football, which is what made him so thrilling to watch.

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Ravens regular-season moment No. 16: “That’s one that loosens your teeth”

Posted on 26 May 2020 by Luke Jones

Check out the No. 17 regular-season moment in Ravens history HERE.

The Ravens looked like they might be the worst team in football.

After an offseason salary-cap purge in which general manager Ozzie Newsome bid farewell to multiple starters and a couple future Hall of Famers from the Super Bowl XXXV championship team, the 2002 season couldn’t have started much worse on and off the field.

The young Ravens suffered a season-opening 10-7 road loss to a Carolina Panthers team that had gone 1-15 the previous year. The offensive output certainly wasn’t encouraging in third-year quarterback and former third-round pick Chris Redman’s first NFL start.

A few days later, sadness overcame the city as Baltimore Colts legend and football icon Johnny Unitas died of a heart attack on the first anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks. With Redman wearing black high-tops to pay tribute to the fellow Louisville product who had taken an interest in his football career, the Ravens were thoroughly embarrassed in a 25-0 loss to Tampa Bay in Week 2, the only time in team history they’ve been shut out at home.

Coming out of an early Week 3 bye, the Ravens were set to host the undefeated Denver Broncos — who had already knocked off defending NFC champion St. Louis and won at San Francisco — on Monday Night Football. Despite clamoring for more media attention the previous two seasons, even most Ravens fans dreaded their 0-2 team being on a prime-time stage for the football world to mock and ridicule.

The second quarter indeed proved to be embarrassing — for the Broncos.

Redman threw a touchdown pass to Todd Heap to give Baltimore a 7-3 lead on the second play of the period. Rookie Ed Reed blocked a punt that led to a short Jamal Lewis touchdown run to make it 14-3. And after a Matt Stover field goal, Ray Lewis intercepted a Brian Griese pass to set up another Redman touchdown throw to Heap with 18 seconds left in the first half, making it 24-3 in favor of the Ravens.

But none of that compared to what happened moments later as longtime Denver kicker Jason Elam lined up to try a 57-yard field goal on the final play of the first half. The attempt was well short and wide to the left as cornerback Chris McAlister fielded the kick in the end zone and initially played possum before taking off at his own goal line. With many not even realizing what was happening, McAlister sprinted down the sideline for a then-NFL-record 107 yards for a touchdown as over 69,000 shocked fans went bonkers.

Perhaps even more thrilling and memorable than the return itself, however, was the block delivered by Ray Lewis, who absolutely throttled Broncos linebacker Keith Burns at the 5-yard line. As the legendary John Madden so perfectly described it on the ABC broadcast, “That’s one that loosens your teeth!”

The monstrous hit symbolized the night for the shell-shocked Broncos as the Ravens earned their first win of the season in a 34-23 final, a game that also included Reed’s first career interception. The victory may not have been the harbinger of a magical 2002 turnaround, but it made clear the rebuilding Ravens were far from the NFL’s worst team as they’d go on to finish 7-9 in what was one of Brian Billick’s finest coaching jobs.

The incredible touchdown to close the half signaled better days were coming soon for a team with a very talented young core still intact, including the two men responsible for one of the most exhilarating plays in franchise history.

“That’s the way we practice it,” said McAlister about his record return after the game. “I watched and hung in the end zone and let my guys set up the wall. I got a hell of a block from Ray, and we went with the wall. All I saw was purple jerseys and green until I hit the end zone.”

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Ravens regular-season moment No. 18: 2,000 and then some

Posted on 21 May 2020 by Luke Jones

Check out the No. 19 regular-season moment in Ravens history HERE.

The game meant nothing and everything.

Thanks to second-place Cincinnati’s loss to Cleveland 4 1/2 hours earlier, the Ravens entered the 2003 regular-season finale having already clinched the first division championship in team history. Conventional wisdom called for head coach Brian Billick to rest his key players in preparation for a wild-card playoff showdown with Tennessee six days later, but there was nothing ordinary about the Week 17 opponent.

“This is the Pittsburgh Steelers,” said Billick about his decision to play his starters. “It’s a rivalry. You can’t cheat the game. You can’t cheat the fans.”

Perhaps more important than Baltimore’s desire to break a five-game losing streak against its AFC North adversary and build momentum going into the playoffs was the matter of All-Pro running back Jamal Lewis putting an exclamation point on his historic season. Voted the AP 2003 NFL Offensive Player of the Year, the 24-year-old entered the night needing 48 yards to become the fifth player in league history to rush for 2,000 yards in a season. Having already broken the NFL’s single-game rushing record with 295 yards in Week 2, Lewis would touch the ball a whopping 413 times that season while accounting for 46 percent of Baltimore’s total yards and 40 percent of its offensive touchdowns.

The Ravens offense was indeed a one-man show.

The 245-pound Lewis was not only aiming for his 12th 100-yard rushing performance of the year, but 153 rushing yards stood between him and Eric Dickerson’s single-season league record of 2,105 set in 1984. Accomplishing that wouldn’t be easy against a Pittsburgh defense that didn’t want a rival to set a record on its watch.

The bruising back carried five times for 39 yards on Baltimore’s first drive before Anthony Wright threw an interception inside the red zone. However, Pro Bowl safety Ed Reed picked off Steelers quarterback Tommy Maddox two plays later to set the stage for history.

Lewis gained nine yards on first down to reach exactly 2,000 yards, but the next play would send 70,000 fans into a frenzy at M&T Bank Stadium. Running between left guard Edwin Mulitalo and future Hall of Fame left tackle Jonathan Ogden, Lewis broke free untouched for a 25-yard touchdown. His league-best 16th run of 20 or more yards that season left no doubt that the 2000 first-round pick from Tennessee would be remembered in NFL rushing lore.

The Steelers would clamp down after that as Lewis would gain only 41 yards on 20 more carries the rest of the way to fall 39 yards short of Dickerson’s record, but the night served as both a celebration and a reminder of the intensity of the Ravens-Steelers rivalry that endures today. Billick never took his foot off the gas as the teams played into overtime with Matt Stover kicking a 47-yard field goal to give the Ravens their first win against Pittsburgh in more than two years and first home victory over their bitter rival since the inaugural 1996 campaign.

You never would have known the game was meaningless by watching as chippy behavior persisted and Ravens punter Dave Zastudil suffered a broken nose and a concussion — and returned to action — over the course of the game. Billick’s decision to play his starters the entire way would be second-guessed for a long time after Baltimore was eliminated by the Titans the following week.

But that night belonged to Lewis, who passed the likes of Barry Sanders, Terrell Davis, and O.J. Simpson on the single-season rushing list despite failing to match Dickerson.

“I’m not disappointed,” Lewis said after the 13-10 victory. “The opportunity was there, and we went at it. My line, they blocked well. It was in reach, but we didn’t get it. I think second is good.”

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Ravens regular-season moment No. 19: “You want to be the last team standing”

Posted on 19 May 2020 by Luke Jones

Check out the No. 20 regular-season moment in Ravens history HERE.

The 2006 campaign was shaping up to be a pivotal one.

With the Ravens coming off their worst season since 1998, head coach Brian Billick was firmly on the hot seat and former first-round pick Kyle Boller wasn’t the franchise quarterback the organization hoped he would be after drafting him three years earlier. That prompted general manager Ozzie Newsome to trade a fourth-round pick to Tennessee for former MVP quarterback and longtime rival Steve McNair to boost a mediocre offense needing to better complement a championship-caliber defense led by future Hall of Famers Ray Lewis and Ed Reed, who were both healthy after injuries the previous year.

Baltimore began the season with a bang, shutting out Tampa Bay on the road and flattening Oakland in the home opener. A fourth-quarter comeback win at Cleveland gave the Ravens the first 3-0 start in franchise history to set up a Week 4 showdown with undefeated San Diego at an energized M&T Bank Stadium. Led by MVP running back LaDainian Tomlinson, the Chargers and their No. 1 scoring offense going up against the league’s best defense felt like a potential preview of the AFC Championship game.

The teams traded touchdowns in the first quarter, but it was an ugly affair for the Ravens for much of the day with McNair throwing two interceptions, backup tight end Dan Wilcox fumbling at the San Diego 1 in the third quarter, and top wide receiver Derrick Mason dropping a sure touchdown in the fourth quarter. But the Chargers had made their own mistakes with conservative play calling and a fumbled snap that squandered a 52-yard field goal attempt that could have put them ahead by two scores midway through the final period.

Backed up on its next possession and not wanting to give the Ravens a short field with time winding down, San Diego intentionally took a safety to make it a 13-9 game with 3:12 remaining. It was just enough time for McNair, who had led the go-ahead drive against the Browns a week earlier and was trying to redeem himself after a poor showing in front of his new fans.

After punting or committing a turnover on their first five drives of the second half, the Ravens moved into the red zone thanks to two completions to Mark Clayton and a vintage 12-yard scramble by McNair. Out of timeouts after burning all three in the third quarter, Baltimore faced a second down from the 10 with 41 seconds to go.

Motioning across the formation, Todd Heap wasn’t a primary read on the play, but the Chargers rushed only three after applying heavy pressure much of the day, allowing McNair to look back to his left. Heap, a two-time Pro Bowl tight end despite having played with a motley crew of quarterbacks over his first five seasons, reined in a high pass and absorbed a shot from Pro Bowl outside linebacker Shawne Merriman at the 3 before stretching across the goal line with 34 seconds remaining.

“I felt the hit,” Heap said after the 16-13 win. “Luckily, I was able to bounce, fight, and do whatever I could to get in the end zone. You want to be able to take the hit. You want to be the last team standing.”

The upper deck seemingly shook during one of the loudest eruptions in the stadium’s history. All that was left was for the Ravens defense to put a bow on its impressive performance against an offense that averaged just over 30 points per game that season.

A fourth-down completion from Philip Rivers to Antonio Gates gave the Chargers a last-gasp chance from the Baltimore 49, but outside linebacker Jarret Johnson sacked the San Diego quarterback on the next play as time expired. The Ravens had prevailed to improve to 4-0 and would go 13-3, the best regular-season record in franchise history until 2019.

The Chargers and Ravens would finish as the AFC’s top two seeds respectively in 2006, but there would be no January rematch with both teams being upset in the divisional round. Still, you couldn’t ask for better theater in Week 4 than what Ravens fans witnessed on that early October afternoon.

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Introducing the top 25 regular-season moments in Ravens history

Posted on 04 May 2020 by Luke Jones

1. Beating Jacksonville
2. “We know what kind of quarterback we have”
3. Dilfer’s redemption
4. Ruining homecoming
5. “Hey diddle diddle, Ray Rice up the middle”
6. “Would it be us if we didn’t end it that way?”
7. “Something that you dream of”
8. “I guess the dude is Nostradamus”
9. “He seems to always be around it”
10. “Not bad for a running back”
11. Saluting Heinz Field
12. “Almost as if he knew what was coming”
13. The Kick-6
14. Five touchdowns in 125 seconds
15. “I didn’t want to hurt my team”
16. “That’s one that loosens your teeth”
17. “Our backs were against the wall”
18. 2,000 and then some
19. “You want to be the last team standing”
20. “Hell yeah, coach, let’s go for it!”
21. Scott blows up Roethlisberger
22. Win or “get run out of town”
23. “I got this”
24. New hope
25. The first touchdown

There has been no shortage of great moments over the Ravens’ quarter-century in Baltimore.

Two Super Bowl championships.

The Mile High Miracle.

Ray Lewis wrestling the ball away from Eddie George.

Shannon Sharpe’s 96-yard catch and gallop to silence the “Black Hole” in Oakland.

The 83-yard touchdown run by Ray Rice to kick off a wild-card round demolition of New England.

But you need no reminder of the unforgettable postseason moments that are a fan’s dessert after the meat and potatoes of the regular season. Right now, we yearn for those daily and weekly servings of escape that sports provide, which is why I’ve elected to dive deeper with the top 25 regular-season moments in Ravens history as the organization prepares to kick off its 25th season in Baltimore this fall.

By no means am I the definitive voice on the topic, but as a 13-year-old starved for football when the Ravens arrived in 1996, a young adult who bought season tickets right out of college, and eventually a beat reporter lucky enough to cover his hometown team, I’ve had a pretty good seat from different perspectives. In the end, my list will very likely differ from yours, which is what makes this fun.

My top 25 regular-season moments come solely from game action, so we’re not considering extracurricular activities such as Ravens Ring of Honor inductions, pre-game tributes, or Lewis’ unforgettable dance that whipped M&T Bank Stadium into a frenzy.

Of course, the term “moment” requires some wiggle room as some choices would be better described as a sequence of events or moments combining to produce a memorable outcome, an impressive accomplishment, or raw emotion. Context definitely matters as I attempt to weigh the historical significance against the real-time reaction each moment garnered. That’s why you’re likely to see a greater number of moments from the more accomplished teams in Ravens history.

To offer an idea of how lofty the standard was to make the cut — or to anger you right off the bat — before we begin revealing one moment at a time, I took a look at some honorable mentions below:

Lamar Jackson’s Cincinnati spin (2019)

If we were to make a list of the greatest individual plays in franchise history, this sensational 47-yard touchdown run would be an easy choice, but the Ravens already led by three scores at the time and Jackson was on his way to a perfect 158.3 passer rating that day, his second in what would be an MVP season. I’d also bet that we’ll see an even more spectacular play from Jackson in a more crucial moment in the future. Make no mistake, the 23-year-old will still make a couple appearances on the list.

Jermaine Lewis excels through grief (2000)

Less than two weeks after the stillborn delivery of his son, the two-time Pro Bowl selection had punt returns of 54 and 89 yards for touchdowns as the Ravens bested the playoff-hopeful New York Jets in a 34-20 final to close the 2000 regular season. The sight of Lewis pointing to the heavens after each score was special, but the University of Maryland product would top that a month later with an 84-yard kick return for a touchdown that removed any lingering doubt that the Ravens would win Super Bowl XXXV.

Ending the touchdown drought (2000)

As time goes on, the idea that the Ravens won the Super Bowl in a season in which they went five straight games without scoring a touchdown feels more preposterous, especially considering they managed to win twice over that stretch. Still, the Ravens were in the midst of a three-game losing streak when Trent Dilfer connected with Brandon Stokley for a 14-yard touchdown at Cincinnati, a play that elicited a loud exhale in Baltimore and began an 11-game winning streak ending in championship glory.

Qadry Ismail goes off in Pittsburgh (1999)

The Ravens had never won at Three Rivers Stadium and certainly weren’t an offensive juggernaut in head coach Brian Billick’s first year as Tony Banks, Baltimore’s third starting quarterback of the season, completed just eight of his 26 passes on the day. However, Ismail, a journeyman in the midst of a career year, hauled in five of those for a franchise-record 258 yards and three touchdowns of 54 or more yards in a 31-24 win. No other Raven has even cracked the 200-yard receiving mark in a game.

Priest who? (1998)

Many recall one-hit wonder Jay Graham and his 154-yard rushing day a year earlier, but Priest Holmes was making his first career start and had only seven career carries as the Ravens played their first ever prime-time home game and were without star linebacker Ray Lewis. Holmes, a 1997 undrafted free agent, wowed everyone with a 173-yard, two-touchdown night in a 31-24 win over the Bengals. Holmes would go on to be the 2001 rushing champion and a three-time Pro Bowl back with Kansas City.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts on Marshal Yanda’s retirement

Posted on 11 March 2020 by Luke Jones

With eight-time Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda officially announcing his retirement after 13 seasons, I’ve offered a dozen Ravens thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. The 35-year-old stated his desire to walk away still playing at a high level and to be in a position where he’s still wanted. Yanda didn’t want to hold on and eventually become “like a liability.” That’s been a difficult call for even some of the franchise’s all-time greats.

2. Yanda knew 2019 would very likely be his final season, no matter how it went. The best evidence of that is the 45 pounds he’s lost since his final game. Not even the joy he experienced in a 14-2 season and the bitter playoff defeat prompted him to really waver.

3. Always showing great respect for opponents, Yanda admitting he felt there was “no doubt” the Ravens would find a way to beat Tennessee — “even if we played bad for three quarters” — speaks to lingering shock. However, he still prepared his family for that possibility and took photos after the game.

4. With Jonathan Ogden sidelined, Yanda lined up as the starting left tackle for the first padded practice of his career and was outclassed by Terrell Suggs, prompting the rookie to wonder if he “had what it took” for the NFL. It’s a story he frequently shared with younger players.

5. Still working his way back from a serious knee injury from the previous year, Yanda said he was never more nervous for a game than in Week 12 against Pittsburgh in 2009 when given the opportunity to permanently rejoin the starting lineup. He played well, and the rest was history.

6. Yanda was reluctant to discuss the possibility of the Hall of Fame, but, to no surprise, Eric DeCosta confirmed he’d go into the Ring of Honor in the “very near future.” The projected line is getting crowded with Haloti Ngata up next and some other slam dunks on the horizon.

7. In the process of thanking Brian Billick as his first NFL coach, Yanda said he kept his head down and didn’t say anything as a rookie. “That’s just the way I loved rookies — head down, quiet, do your job, and you’ll earn your respect.” Honest words from a throwback guy.

8. Joe Flacco was among the former Ravens teammates present, a classy move from the Super Bowl XLVII MVP who made the drive from New Jersey. The turnout for the press conference at a time of year when players tend to be all over the place reflected their admiration for Yanda.

9. The Ravens public relations staff did a great job collecting statements from many current and former teammates and coaches, but comments from some of Yanda’s peers around the league reinforced how much he’s respected as a player. Opposing defensive linemen certainly won’t miss him on Sundays.

10. Speaking after the press conference, Matt Skura said he saw meaningful growth from new right guard candidate Ben Powers last season, but what happens in free agency will better reflect the confidence level in the 2019 fourth-round pick. Adding a viable veteran to at least compete would be ideal.

11. Ex-Raven Kelechi Osemele has been mentioned as a free-agent possibility, but the 30-year-old has played only 14 games over the last two years and has remained at left guard since leaving after the 2015 season. That said, I could see a reunion at a reasonable price.

12. As tough as they come and cooperative with reporters throughout his career, Yanda lit up speaking about being able to spend more time with his wife and three children, who wore No. 73 Ravens jerseys with “Dad” on the nameplate. Congratulations to one of the best I’ve ever covered.

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