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.”