By Alan Zlotorzynski: Here we go Baltimore football fans, the “Elite 8 Greatest Games” in Ravens franchise history has arrived, well at least the next four in the series anyway. When last I left you we were getting down to some of the playoff battles that have stuck in our minds throughout the years.
No. 12 December 20, 2008 Ravens Run over Cowboys in Texas Stadium Finale
Ravens running backs Willis McGahee and LeRon McClain combined to rush for two late touchdowns, which covered 159 total yards to help turn out the lights on old Texas Stadium, as the Ravens defeated the Dallas Cowboys 33-24 in the final game ever played in the historic venue. The two teams combined to score 28-points in the games final 3:54. The Ravens became only the third visiting team since 1996 to beat an NFL team closing out its old stadium.
The win greatly helped the Ravens in their quest to return to the playoffs following a 5-11 season the year before, as Baltimore moved to 10-5 on the season with a rookie head coach and quarterback.
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.
Flacco silenced his critics, at least temporarily, as he led the Ravens on a 92-yard game winning touchdown drive with less than two minutes to play. 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)
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.
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.
The Ravens’ intercepted Dolphins QB Chad Pennington four times 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.
Despite out gaining the Ravens, 391-to-211 in the game, Baltimore not Tennessee would advance to play for the AFC Championship. 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.
“THE ELITE 8”…….WELL AT LEAST FOUR OF THEM”
No.8 December 31, 2000: The Postseason Returns to Baltimore:
New Year’s Eve 2000 marked the return of playoff football to Baltimore, as the 12-4 Ravens hosted the Denver Broncos. The last playoff game in Charm City occurred on Christmas Eve in 1977. The Oakland Raiders defeated the Baltimore Colts 37-31 in what was the third longest game in NFL history at the time. In a double overtime playoff classic, Raiders QB Ken Stabler found Dave Casper 43-seconds into the second overtime for the win. The game would go onto become known as the Ghost to the Post.
For the Baltimore football fans that were around in 1977, they must have known that this outcome would be different for the home team following the Ravens second TD of the game. After rookie running back Jamal Lewis scored on a one yard dive to give the Ravens a 7-3 lead, Ravens QB Trent Dilfer looked to throw a pass to Lewis in the flat later in the quarter.
The cold temperatures may have played a part in the play, as the game time temperature was just 22 degrees with a wind chill of five degrees. Instead of landing in the arms of the rookie running back, the pass deflected off his hands and into the arms of Denver cornerback Terrell Buckley, and then amazingly, the ball deflected out of Buckley’s hands and into the arms of Ravens tight end Shannon Sharpe, who was admittedly five yards out of position.
“I was supposed to go 10 yards and out,” Sharpe said. “I looked at the defense and went 5 and into the flat.” Sharpe grabbed the ball, and followed fullback Sam Gash and wide receiver Patrick Johnson down the sideline for the touchdown. Sharpe’s crazy TD was plenty of offense for the best defense in the NFL.
Lewis, who missed the ball to begin with, was the Ravens offensive star of the game, as the rookie rushed for 110 yards and two touchdowns including a decisive romp through the middle of the Broncos defense for a 27-yard touchdown to cap off the Ravens scoring. The 2000 season and the Championship that followed was not about the Ravens offense, it was all about the defense.
The Broncos came to Baltimore with the No. 2-ranked offense in the league, but the Ravens allowed it to cross midfield only once during the game. That was in the second quarter, when a 68-yard drive reached the Baltimore 12-yard line. Baltimore allowed just nine first downs and 177 total yards to the high powered attack.
The first NFL playoff game in Baltimore since 1977 produced the first home playoff win by a Baltimore team since Jan. 3, 1971, when the Colts beat those same Raiders, 27-17, in the 1970 AFC championship game.
No.7 January 6, 2013: The Last Dance:
Obviously, still fresh in Ravens fans minds, this instant classic, along with a few others from the 2012-13 postseason must take the place of few games from January’s gone by. How can the final home game of Ray Lewis’ career not make this list and not make the list this high.
The Ravens entered the Wild Card round of the playoffs having lost four of their past five games. Not exactly on a roll but it did not matter— the Ravens were not going to lose this game and apparently decided as a team that losing wasn’t option for the rest of the playoffs either.
The Indianapolis Colts were the opponent on this day. Baltimore football fans still had memories from the 2007 divisional round loss, as well as a scratch that needed to be itched form the whole little Mayflower Vans leaving town in the middle of the night incident back in 1984.
Back in January of 2007, Ray Lewis led a Baltimore’s defense that kept the Colts offense, led by Peyton Manning, from scoring a touchdown—but five Adam Vinatieri’s field goals were enough to eliminate the 13-3 Ravens from the postseason, as the Colts prevailed 15-6 and eventually went on to win the Super Bowl. In fact, the Ravens and Colts had met two previous times in the playoffs and both times, the Colts won and went onto play in the big game.
This time was different, Indianapolis no longer had Peyton Manning but they did possess one of the best young rookie quarterbacks since No.18 arrived in 1998, Andrew Luck. With Luck still in college and Manning injured for the season, the Colts were 2-14 in 2011 but on Luck’s arm and inspiration provided by their head coach, former Ravens defensive coordinator, Chuck Pagano, the Colts franchise came to the city they once called home with a better regular season record than the Ravens.
Many NFL pundits and experts believed that Indianapolis had a legitimate shot to upset the Ravens. Many believed that the Colts were a team of destiny. Pagano battled cancer all season and returned to the sidelines before the season ended, sparking the motivation for his team to be CHUCK STRONG through any adversity– on and off the field. Luck led the team to numerous come from behind fourth quarter wins during the season, as interim head coach Bruce Arians filled in for Pagano. Miracles were the only way to describe how the Colts managed to pull out more than a few of their 11 wins in 2012.
However, a few days before the game, the heart and soul of the Ravens franchise stole back some, if not all of the momentum by announcing to his team—then the world– that he would be making his “last ride”, Ray Lewis announced that following the Ravens post season run he was going to retire. Not totally unexpected considering he was returning from a torn triceps muscle which had him sidelined since Week 6 of the regular season. Lewis spent 17 seasons chasing down ball carriers, receivers and quarterbacks; he was heading to the Hall of Fame and would take his place on the Baltimore “Mt Rushmore” of iconic sports figures. Lewis’s face would be right up there with Unitas, Ripken and Robinson.
In fact, because the Ravens clinched a playoff spot three weeks before the end of the season, Lewis would make his return to the field in this game while wearing a specially fitted arm brace. But before Lewis could ride off into the East Baltimore sunset, there was the task of the playoffs at hand. Following Lewis’ historic and iconic last dance onto the field during pregame introductions, which saw Ravens players lined up to watch like never before, the Ravens went on to take care of business the way they did when Lewis was in younger years manning the middle of the vaunted Baltimore defense.
While Andrew Luck set a postseason single-game rookie record for pass attempts and had the most passing yards by a rookie in a playoff game since Sammy Baugh in 1937, the Ravens aggressive pass rush caused Luck a lot of trouble. He was sacked three times by that rush and had a fumble and an interception, snapping a streak of three games without a turnover.
The Ravens kept the Colts out of the end zone and held them to single digits for just the second time all season. Luck finished with an ESPN total QBR of 27.2, his third lowest in any game this season, as the Ravens pulled away for a 24-9 victory.
Ironically, it was the experience of quarterback Joe Flacco, which won out over the performance of an up-and-coming rookie. The Ravens became the sixth team in NFL history to win a playoff game in five straight seasons and improved to 6-1 all time in the wild card round. While Ray Lewis got much of the attention for his team-high 13 tackles, Flacco and the Ravens’ offense also played a huge role and began what would become the start of something special.
Flacco completed 12 passes but managed 282 passing yards. The only other quarterback since 1960 to have at least as many yards on that few completions in a postseason game was Tim Tebow for the Denver Broncos against the Pittsburgh Steelers last season.
Flacco was 5-of-8 passing at least 15 yards downfield, including 4-of-5 targeting Anquan Boldin. Speaking of Boldin, he set a team playoff record with his 145 receiving yards. He had two catches on throws that traveled 31 yards or more in the air; matching the number, he had in the entire regular season.
On the games final play, Ray Lewis lined up at deep running back and did his patent dance one last time, as the Ravens would travel to Denver the following week in a game that many believed would actually be the real last dance for Lewis and his teammates…….more on that in a bit!
No.6 January 14, 2001: The Ravens Are Super Bowl BoundFor the First Time:
The Ravens completed their improbable run as a wild card team through the 2000 AFC playoffs by finishing off the Oakland Raiders to win the AFC Championship. The defense again carried the day for the Ravens allowing just three points for the second time during the 00′ postseason.
The Raiders were held to just 191 total yards, as the Ravens defense held Oakland’s league-leading running game to 24 rushing yards on 17 carries. It forced five turnovers from a Raiders offense that had the second-fewest giveaways in the NFL this season.
Baltimore’s physical bullish defense also knocked Raiders starting QB Rich Gannon from the game. Gannon was hurt on two separate hits from Baltimore defenders. The first from defensive end Michael McCrary, and the knockout punch was provided by the Ravens 350-pound defensive tackle, Tony Siragusa.
The Goose landed on Gannon’s upper body after an incomplete pass to James Jett, sending him to the sidelines, and eventually, the locker room for good. The Raiders offense could never really get started and in fact, were only able to cross midfield for the first time after Ravens QB Trent Dilfer put them there in the second quarter by throwing an interception.
The Ravens offense was not much better but they made the biggest play of the post season when it mattered most. Following a 54-yard punt and a sack of Dilfer inside the Ravens five-yard line, Baltimore’s offense was facing third and 18 from their own four-yard line.
The play call was Rip Double Slant, but when the Raiders showed blitz, Dilfer checked down to his hot read, tight end Shannon Sharpe. The Raiders came after Dilfer as they showed they would pre-snap but Dilfer stood tall and delivered a perfect quick strike against the Oakland pressure to his veteran tight end as planned.
Sharpe found 96-yards of daylight and with the help of fellow Ravens receiver Brandon Stokley, the end zone, to give the ravens a 7-0 lead.
The Ravens defense took over and after three Matt Stover field goals; the Ravens defeated the Raiders 13-3, to win the AFC Championship. Two weeks later in Tampa, Baltimore’s defense would again rise to the occasion against the New York Giants in Super Bowl XXXV.
No. 5 January 28, 2001: Super Bowl XXXV Champions
Hard to believe this game ranks fifth doesn’t it? That just goes to show you how special the 2012-13 run to the Super Bowl was. For all the buildup of the big game, this one was over early, like as soon as Giants QB Kerry Collins stepped on the field and realized the Ravens defense was twice, maybe three times as fast as they appeared on tape.
Even head coach Brian Billick is quoted as saying during the NFL Films Super Bowl XXXV recap film, “they don’t know how fast we are on defense”. I’m not sure the self-professed quarterback guru knew himself.
In what many consider the most dominating defensive performance in Super Bowl history, the Baltimore Ravens held the New York Giants to 152 totals yards, did not surrender an offensive touchdown and forced five turnovers in their dominating 34-7 win.
The Ravens knocked the Giants around early and often, never taking their foot off their throats. Giants QB Kerry Collins, who threw for 381 yards and five touchdowns during New York’s 41-0 win over the Vikings in the NFC Championship game, looked confused, slow and at times scared of the ferocious Baltimore D.
The Ravens scored in every phase of the game. They scored on offense twice, defense once and added a special team’s touchdown, killing any Giants momentum. Baltimore struck first when Brandon Stokley ran past Giants DB Jason Sehorn for a 38-yard TD reception from Trent Dilfer.
Dilfer, who was returning to play in the stadium where he suffered some of his greatest failings in the NFL, again managed the offense to perfection while allowing the defense to control the game.
The Ravens led 10-0 at halftime, and after a great halftime show that featured Aerosmith, Brittany Spears, The Back Street Boys, Mary J Blige and Nelly was complete, continued their dominance in the second half.
The third quarter scoring was kicked off by Ravens cornerback Duane Starks, who stepped in front of a Collins slant pass, and returned it 49-yards for the Ravens defensive TD of the game. The Giants Ron Dixon then returned the ensuing kickoff 97-yards for the Giants only score of the game.
Not to be outdone, Ravens Pro Bowl kick returner Jermaine Lewis immediately matched Dixon’s return with an 84-yard touchdown of his own on the ensuing kickoff. The score was an emotional one for Lewis, who suffered a personal tragedy when he lost his stillborn son in December. Lewis dedicated the game and TD in his honor.
The three touchdowns in just 36 seconds set a Super Bowl record, as did the successive kick returns for touchdowns.
Linebacker Ray Lewis, who sat in jail charged with murder during the days following the previous year’s Super Bowl in Atlanta, finished off a great season in which he won the defensive player of the year award, by winning the Super Bowl MVP. Lewis became just the sixth defensive player to do so.
Following the game, Art Modell lifted the Lombardi Trophy in the air and said, “To the people of Baltimore City, Baltimore County and the State of Maryland, this belongs to you. From the bottom of my heart, thank you.”
No Art, thank you. Here is hoping that you are resting in peace and that one day you get what you deserve from the league you helped build. A gold jacket with the NFL Hall of Fame patch on the breast.
HOW CAN THIS BE YOU ASK:
How can a Super Bowl championship be only the fifth greatest game in franchise history you ask? It’s not a simple explanation but one certainly worth providing. The term Greatest Game, to me, would indicate the game itself provided drama filled nail-biting action. The only drama in Super Bowl XXXV was which team was going to win the coin toss. In fact, as Super Bowls go, this one was quite the clunker, thankfully, as Ravens fans, we were on the side of watching our team deliver the clunking.
Following this past postseason and considering the route the Ravens took and who they beat to get there, this game simply lost a little of its luster in my eyes. Spoiled you say, maybe but the first one is always the sweetest, it’s just not the greatest—-anymore. I hope that one day Ravens fans will see SB XXXV fall to the high teens in terms of greatest games in Ravens history.
Please do not forget to check back this weekend as the “Final 4” is revealed. Thanks—-And as always, comments are welcome and encouraged.