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

May 19, 2020 | 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.