By Alan Zlotorzynski: Welcome to the third installment of the 20 Greatest Games in Baltimore Ravens History. With the Ravens offseason in full swing and the NFL Draft complete, I decided to dig into the brief 17-year history of what is steadily becoming one of the model franchises in not just the NFL but in all of professional sports.
The first part of the series ranked games 20-17 and last week I delivered 16-13. With just 12-games left to rank, most of the regular season contests are out of the way. Tonight, we start to dive into some of the memorable playoff games during Ravens history. Speaking of the playoffs, the Ravens have become one of the most successful franchises in NFL history during the post season. The Ravens moved to Baltimore in 1996 and failed to qualify for the playoffs during their first four seasons in the Charm City. Under Head Coaches Ted Marchibroda and Brian Billick, the Ravens posted a four-year record of just 24-39-1.
Since the 8-8 season in 1999 under first year head coach Brian Billick, the Ravens have become one of the winingest teams in the NFL. Billick and now John Harbaugh would guide the Ravens to a combined 126-82 mark since 2000—posting 10 winning seasons, tied for third with Green Bay and Pittsburgh during that span.
The Baltimore Ravens are one of four franchises (New England, NY Giants and Pittsburgh) to win multiple Super Bowls since the year 2000 and are the only NFL team to play in multiple Super Bowls and win each game (2000 & 2014).
The Ravens have earned nine postseason berths – including a current NFL-best five straight – in their 16-year history (2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2006, 2003, 2001, 2000). Baltimore’s nine berths since 2000 rank third most in the AFC and tie for third in the NFL. They have also won three AFC North division titles, including the last two.
Since arriving from Cleveland, the Ravens have appeared in 21 playoff games, which is second only to New England’s 24. The Ravens are also second to the Patriots in playoffs wins with 14. The Pats have won 17 post-season games since the 2000 season. However, with only seven playoff losses, the Ravens own the best playoff winning percentage (.667) in NFL history (since 1970 AFL/NFL merger), compiling a 14-7 mark.
Even more impressive is how the Ravens have become one of the best playoff teams in the past 13 years. Baltimore has done most of their damage away from the Charm City. The Ravens are 9-5 on the road all time in postseason play, posting the second-best road win percentage (.643) since the 1970 merger. The Ravens are 6-4 on the road during the John Harbaugh Era.
Defense has always been the mantra in Baltimore during the regular season and it is the main reason why the Ravens organization can boast such impressive playoff numbers. The Ravens have allowed 15.5 points per game in postseason play, the best playoff mark since the 1970 merger. Limiting the Colts to nine points in the 2012 Wild Card win, it marked the ninth playoff game Baltimore has allowed 10-or-fewer points since 2000. Amazingly, no other team has more than four such games during this span.
In their 21 all-time playoff games, the Ravens have only allowed 192.5 passing yards and 96.3 rushing yards per contest. Baltimore’s 288.8 net yards allowed per game since 2000 (minimum five games) rank as the NFL’s third-best mark during this span.
In 21 playoff games, the Ravens’ “D” has forced 40 INTs, including 28 thefts in their last 15 postseason contests. Baltimore’s 40 INTs rank as the most in NFL postseason play since 2000, while the 679 INT return yards also stand first. In their playoff history, the Ravens have dominated the turnover battle, registering a +25 mark in 21 games.
Under John Harbaugh, the Ravens have forced NFL-best 38 turnovers in 13 playoff games. Still not impressed, how about this—– Baltimore has allowed only two 100-yard rushers in its playoff history, holding opposing RBs under the century mark in 19 of 21 contests.
So before we dive into some of these defensive gems from the past, here is a recap of 16-13.
No.16 November 23, 2003: Ravens Wright Ship in Come From Behind win Vs. Seahawks:
Led by QB Anthony Wright, the Ravens stage their second biggest comeback (first at the time) in team history. The Seattle Seahawks led the Ravens early in the fourth qtr. 41-24 but Wright directed the comeback, as the Ravens salvaged a 5-5 start to the season with a dramatic 44-41 overtime win.
No. 15 September 14, 2003: Jamal Lewis Breaks Single Game Rushing Record
Behind running back Jamal Lewis, who broke Corey Dillon’s single game (278 yards) NFL rushing record on this day, the Ravens trounced the Cleveland Browns 33-14. Lewis wasted little time rushing for the record. On the second play of the game, Lewis took a hand-off and ran for an 82-yard touchdown. He followed that up with a 63-yard rushing TD run early in the fourth quarter, and broke the record on a 3-yard run with 6:55 remaining in the game. Lewis finished the day with 295 rushing yards on 30 carries to break the record, which stood for just four years until its current holder, the Vikings Adrian Peterson, broke it as a rookie in 2007. Peterson rushed for one more yard than Lewis in a game against the San Diego Chargers during a November contest that season.
No.14. December 10, 2000: Happy Berth Day
With the holiday season in full swing, PSI Net Stadium was a “Festivus” place to be on Dec 10 2000, as the Ravens dismantled Ryan Leaf and the dismal 1-12 Chargers to earn their first ever playoff berth.
No.13 November 12, 2000: Ravens End Titans Win Streak at Adelphia
The Ravens with Trent Dilfer at quarterback jumped out to a 14-0 lead but behind Steve McNair, the Titans would come back to tie the game at 17 early in the fourth quarter. The Ravens looked to be driving down the field for what would become the go-ahead score late in the fourth quarter. Instead, Dilfer made a bad read on the play, and threw the ball right to Titans safety Perry Phenix, who ran the ball 87-yards for the go-ahead touchdown.
The play, which seemed devastating to Baltimore’s chances to win the game, was not as bad as it could have been. Known as Automatic Al throughout his 17-year NFL career, Titans kicker Al Del Greco missed the extra point, and in the process rejuvenated a down Ravens sideline. The miss opened the door for the Ravens to win in regulation and unfazed by the pick six he had just thrown, Dilfer came back onto the field and promptly led the Ravens on a nine-play, 70-yard drive.
The final play was a Dilfer pass to Patrick Johnson just over the goal line for the game-tying touchdown. After the replay upheld the call on the field, and Matt Stover added the game winning extra point, the Ravens became legitimate AFC contenders.
Sit back and enjoy, as I deliver numbers 12 through 9 in the Ravens Greatest Games of All Time:
No. 12 December 20, 2008 Ravens Run over Cowboys in Texas Stadium Finale
The Ravens performance in the final game at Texas Stadium may have been fueled by the rumor that Cowboys owner Jerry Jones handpicked them to close out the 37-year old venue. If in fact this was true, Jones obviously thought, as did many, that after a 5-11 record in 2007 and firing head coach Brian Billick, the Ravens may not be much of an opponent be in 2008.
Jones and 10 other teams were wrong in 08, in fact and even with a rookie head coach and a rookie quarterback, the Ravens were damn good in ’08, as Baltimore surprised the NFL with an 11-5 record.
The Ravens came into Texas Stadium not intimidated by the pomp and circumstance of the evening, but ready to play Ravens football.
Both teams entered the game with identical 9-5 records and very much alive in their respective conferences playoff race. The game began just as Owner Jerry Jones had envisioned. Joe Flacco turned the ball over on a fumble for only the second time during the season when NFL sacks leader DeMarcus Ware sacked and stripped the rookie quarterback of the ball.
It was the first of five sacks in the first half by the Cowboys, tying the most allowed by the Ravens during an entire game that season.
Cowboy’s rookie running back Tashard Choice converted the turnover into a 7-0 Dallas lead when he scored on a third-down draw. From there, the Ravens defense buckled down and following three Matt Stover field goals, led 9-7 at halftime.
The play of the game, and perhaps the 2008 season, occurred late in the third quarter. Ravens kicker Matt Stover again lined up for a 40-yard field-goal attempt, but instead of placing the ball down for Stover to kick through the uprights, Ravens punter, and Stover’s holder, punter Sam Koch had other ideas. Koch took the snap and ran 9-yards to convert a fourth-and-six to give the Ravens a first down on the Cowboys 13-yard line.
Two plays later, Ravens wide receiver Derrick Mason hauled in a Flacco pass to extend the Baltimore lead to 16-7. After the teams traded early fourth quarter field goals, Dallas receiver Terrell Owens cut the Ravens lead to 19-17.
The Ravens decided it was time to perform a little Texas two-step to finish off the Cowboys and two-step the Ravens did indeed. With just 3:40 remaining in the game and the Ravens offense trying to kill the clock, Willis McGahee took a hand-off from Flacco and promptly ran 77-yards for the longest touchdown run of his career.
McGahee, who had not had a run longer than 17-yards that season prior to the touchdown, gave the Ravens a 26-17 lead. However, if the operator of the Texas Stadium scoreboard thought he had put the final points on the boards’ 38-year history, he was very badly mistaken.
The Cowboys managed to storm back down the field on QB Tony Romo’s arm. With 1:36 left in the game, Romo found his favorite target, Jason Witten, for a 21-yard TD pass. The score made the situation uncomfortable for the Baltimore offense, as they would need to get a first down to close out the Cowboys and Texas Stadium.
They would get a little more than the required 10 yards needed in order to take a knee and run out the clock. In fact, fullback LeRon McClain took a Flacco hand-off and promptly skirted 72 extra yards for an 82-yard touchdown run. McClain made history on the final TD at Texas Stadium.
The Ravens leading rusher during the season, whose longest run of the 08 season was 28 yards, scored the longest rushing TD by a visiting back in the stadium’s 37-year existence. The win moved the Ravens to 10-5 and after defeating the Jacksonville Jaguars the following week, clinched a playoff berth.
The Ravens became only the third visiting team since 1996 to beat an NFL team closing out its old stadium.
No.11 November 6, 2011: Flacco One More Time in the Steele City:
Entering the 2011 season NFL pundits and experts said Joe Flacco could not beat the Pittsburgh Steelers with Ben Roethlisberger playing QB. After all, Flacco had never beaten the Steelers with Big Ben under center.
Not only did Joe Cool clear this hurdle during the 11’ season but he did twice, as the Ravens swept the Steelers for just the second time in franchise history. In the first meeting to kick off the season in Baltimore, Flacco threw three touchdown passes, Haloti Ngata led an inspired defense that forced a team-record seven turnovers, and the Ravens rolled to their most lopsided victory in a hotly contested series that began in 1996 with a 35-7 win.
If this were a list of 30 games, this one may be somewhere between 21 and 25 but the second game between the teams in Pittsburgh proved to be Flacco’s coming out party and makes the list as the last regular season game before the playoff games round out the top 10.
Behind three Billy Cundiff field goals and a Ray Rice four yard touchdown run, the Ravens led the Steelers 16-6 heading into the fourth quarter. This game was being broadcast on NBC’s Sunday Night Football and was not going to end as the dud it appeared to be in the first half.
Ben Roethlisberger saw to that personally during the fourth quarter. Trailing by 10, Rashard Mendenhall scored from 1 yard out to pull Pittsburgh within 16-13. On the next Ravens possession, deja vu set in as James Harrison swatted the football ball out of Flacco’s hand and William Gay from the Steelers recovered.
Only die hard Ravens fans could stomach to watch from that point because all of them knew what was coming next. They knew because just the year before in Baltimore Troy Polamalu did the same thing to Joe Flacco eventually allowing the Steelers offense to score the go-ahead score late in the fourth quarter and once again snatch victory from the beak of a Ravens win.
On this night, Roethlisberger needed just six plays to find Mike Wallace in the end zone to give the Steelers a 20-16 advantage with just 5:08 to play. Things looked even worse for the Ravens when Flacco threw three incomplete passes and the Ravens were forced to punt back to Pittsburgh with only 4:30 to play.
The Ravens defense held but the Steelers offense managed to kill a little clock and after a Roethlisberger, third and five pass fell short to Rashard Mendenhall, Pittsburgh punted to the Ravens eight-yard line.
If Joe Flacco was going to prove he was growing into the upper echelons of the NFL QB ranks, then he was going to have to take his offense 92-yards and do it in just 2:24. He was also going to have to rely on his receivers to help him. Of course, Anquan Boldin would not let No.5 down but rookie Torrey Smith would be the wild card. Smith was having an up and down year and an up and down game.
Smith’s night began night began with a penalty that wiped out a long Baltimore touchdown and got worse when he dropped two critical passes but it would end a lot better than it started. Flacco began the drive completing four of seven passes for 53-yards. By this point, the ball was just across midfield at the Steelers 49 yard line.
From there, Flacco was not great but he was poised in completing three more passes for 23-yards to get the Ravens to the Steelers 26 yard line with .28 seconds to play. A filed goal was no help trailing by four and running the ball was not an option against the Steelers stout defense.
If the Ravens were going to win, then Flacco’s arm was going to be the reason. However, Joe Cool threw two quick incompletions and now faced third and ten.
With the Steelers defense showing and then bringing the blitz, Torrey Smith lined up wide right, as Flacco read Steelers D-coordinator, Dick Lebeau’s call perfectly. Smith, the speedy wideout from Maryland, had single coverage and ran right past William Gay following the snap. Flacco did not miss the throw. He laid the ball perfectly into his arms and as Smith fell to the Heinz Field turf with the game-winning touchdown, Flacco and the Ravens offense celebrated triumphantly.
There was a flag in the end zone but the call was defensive pass interference on Gay. Following the wild celebration and a Billy Cundiff extra point, it was the Ravens who snatched victory from the jaws of defeat on this night with a 23-20 win.
Flacco finished with 300 yards passing and Baltimore, who moved to 6-2 on the year, swept the season series from the rival Steelers (6-3) for the first time since 2006. “This Steelers-Ravens game is a game for men,” Baltimore coach John Harbaugh said. “This is a game for big men. You’ve got to shine bright in this game if you want to win this game. And nobody shined brighter than Joe Flacco in this game.”
No.10 January 13, 2002 & January 4, 2009: Fish Food for the Ravens (Two for One Deal)
STARTING THE TITLE DEFENSE:
While many of the Ravens regular season victories have been huge throughout their 16 years, every win in the playoffs is bigger than any regular season win. Many may argue that point using the theory of what came first, the chicken or the egg. I say if a team loses a big regular season game, they usually have the chance to bounce back. Lose in the playoffs, and your team is done for the year. Also, I’m giving you a two-fer on this one and I promise, all of the really important ones are yet to come.
The Ravens have met the Miami Dolphins twice in the post season, and while both games were blowouts so to speak, they still came in the playoffs. The first of those two playoff meetings came in January 2002 as Baltimore traveled to Pro Player stadium on Wild Card Weekend to begin defense of their Super Bowl title.
The Dolphins led 3-0 after the first quarter, but that was it for Miami as the Ravens scored 20 unanswered points to knock the Dolphins out of the post season. Although the Ravens defense returned many from their 2000 team that won the Super Bowl, they were not quite as good. However, they did hold the Dolphins offense to just 151 total yards for the contest.
Jamie Sharper, Peter Boulware, and Anthony Mitchell all sacked Miami QB Jay Fiedler. Ravens cornerback Duane Starks intercepted Fiedler, as Miami turned the ball over three times to the Ravens.
Despite the average play of Ravens QB Elvis Grbac, Baltimore still managed 347 yards of offense, with 214 of those yards via the ground. With Jamal Lewis out for the year with a torn ACL, he suffered in training camp, veteran Terry Allen and Jason Brookins combined for 198 of them. Grbac did connect on a 4-yard TD to Travis Taylor and Allen scored on the ground from the same distance.
The Ravens would go on to lose the following week in Pittsburgh, ending the defense of their Super Bowl title.
THE ROOKIES WIN THEIR FIRST:
The Ravens would need to return to Miami in order to win another playoff game but it would come almost seven years to the day of their last playoff victory. The Ravens had not won a postseason contest since beating Miami in the above game. This time the Ravens came to town with a rookie head coach and a rookie quarterback. While John Harbaugh had his team prepared to play, Joe Flacco managed the offense well during his first ever playoff victory. He let the Ravens do what they did best back then, win with defense.
Flacco was only 9-for-23 for 135 yards and one rushing TD, but he committed no turnovers and let the Ravens’ defenders control the game, and control the game they did.
With the score tied at three in the second quarter, Dolphins quarterback Chad Pennington threw a terrible pass downfield into double coverage. Pennington’s intended receiver, Ted Ginn Jr. fell down allowing all world safety Ed Reed to make an over the shoulder catch interception. After the interception, Reed, as he usually does, began the long drawn out process of returning it for a touchdown.
He headed toward the left sideline, eluded a tackler, reversed his field, and sprinted for the right corner of the end zone, scoring and completing the pick six only after Terrell Suggs leveled Pennington at the 5-yard line. That made the score 10-3 and the Ravens never trailed again in the game.
Things got much worse for Pennington and the Dolphins offense from that point. The Ravens’ intercepted Pennington four times, including another by Reed, and forced five turnovers total during their 27-9 triumph.
The five turnovers and four interceptions tied a playoff team record, both coming in the 2000 AFC Championship Game and Super Bowl XXXV.
No. 9 January 10, 2009: Ravens Stun the Nashville Faithful Yet Again
For the second time in their franchise history, the Tennessee Titans had the inside track to the Super Bowl with home field advantage as the No.1 seed, and the for the second time, the Baltimore Ravens derailed those chances by beating the Titans in Tennessee.
If the Titans organization, and their fans, were still sick over their 2000 playoff loss to Baltimore, then they must have been looking for the tallest building in Nashville to leap from following this loss.
Despite out gaining the Ravens, 391-to-211 in the game, Baltimore not Tennessee would advance to play for the AFC Championship. The two teams traded first quarter touchdowns, Chris Johnson scored for the Titans, and Derrick Mason on a 48-yard pass from his rookie QB, Joe Flacco, tied the score.
The Ravens hung around but the Titans allowed them to by committing bad penalties and failing to convert on numerous chances in Ravens territory. Tennessee, a plus 14 in turnover margin while winning the AFC South, wasted a half-dozen scoring opportunities with errors. One came when former Titans CB and now Ravens DB, Samari Rolle intercepted Collins at the Ravens 12. Another was Collins’ fourth-down fumble in Baltimore territory, which the quarterback recovered. The third was LenDale White’s fumble at the Baltimore 17 in the final minute of the first half.
Baltimore led the league with 34 takeaways during the season and won the turnover battle the previous week in a 27-9 wild-card victory at Miami. They did so with authority in this one as well. Perhaps the biggest Tennessee turnover came with about nine minutes to play when Alge Crumpler fumbled near the Baltimore goal line. Fabian Washington recovered, preventing the Titans from taking a late lead.
The biggest play of the game may have been one that should have never happened. After the Titans tied the score at 10, Joe Flacco converted a big third down pass play to tight end Todd Heap for a first down in Tennessee territory. It was this play that set help set up Matt Stover’s game winning 43-yard field goal with 53 seconds left in the game.
However, the play clock had expired by a couple of seconds, but referee Terry McAulay failed to blow the play dead. He tried to offer an explanation following the game, but nobody in Nashville wanted to hear it.
“When [the clock] hits zero, which is high here, [the back judge] goes to the ball,” McAulay said after the game. “So there is going to be a natural delay from zero to getting to the ball.” On the next third down, Flacco connected with Mark Clayton for an 8-yard pass, which was a yard short of the first down but set up Stover for the game winning kick.
The 13-10 win was unexpected by many Ravens fans but greatly welcomed. In a scene reminiscent of the 2000 playoff victory in Tennessee, a few thousand Ravens fans flocked to BWI Airport to welcome the team home from Nashville later that evening.
You will not have to wait long for part 4 in this series. Log onto Fanspeak.com on Saturday to see which games came in at No.8,7,6 and 5. Be sure to join myself and Fanspeaks resident NFL expert, Stephen Shoup, next Friday night at 8:30 p.m. for the return of the FRIDAY FOOTBALL FRENZY.