Ravens grind out a win, silence the Jets

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – The final word ultimately belonged to the Baltimore Ravens, as they issued a convincing rebuttal to all of the bluster from swaggering coach Rex Ryan and the outspoken New York Jets.

The Ravens managed to overcome three turnovers and a sloppy first half to manufacture a grind-it-out, blue-collar 10-9 victory over the Jets, opening the season in dramatic fashion Monday night in front of 78,127 at the new Meadowlands stadium.

The Ravens (1-0) constantly harassed Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez, limiting him to 74 passing yards as New York (0-1) gained just 176 yards of total offense and six first downs, their fewest since 1976.

The Ravens silenced the boastful Jets, proving once again that actions speak louder than words.

"It seems like every time a team wants to play us, we beat their butts," linebacker Jarret Johnson said. "Teams had better stop calling us out. Hey, if you want to fight we'll fight."

Jets cornerback Antonio Cromartie, who had called his team the Miami Heat of the NFL, was humbled as he was penalized four times and repeatedly picked on in coverage.

After running back Willis McGahee bulled into the end zone from one yard out in the final moments of the first half, the Ravens never trailed again.

All-Pro middle linebacker Ray Lewis put an exclamation point on the win, slamming tight end Dustin Keller to the ground with a fierce shoulder hit late in the fourth quarter.

"It became personal when the schedule came out," Lewis said. "We knew the tradition and the respect that Rex wanted to bring over to the Jets, and the bottom line is: let's just play football. That's what this team is built for. I take my hat off to my team, we came out and played a heck of a game.

"We bent but we didn't break. All the trash talking, it's out the door. The bottom line is the game has to be played. I respect that guy too much, we won a Super Bowl together and everything, but every time you challenge a warrior,a warrior is going to always respond."

The Ravens eventually halted a disturbing display of sloppiness early in the game just in time to assume control of the game.

And the Jets' tendency to commit foolish penalties never ended, allowing the Ravens to set a franchise record with six first downs gained through infractions.

The Jets committed a staggering 14 penalties for 125 yards while the Ravens were flagged just five times for 38 yards, displaying superior discipline. The Jets went 1 for 11 on third downs. The Ravens converted 11 of 19 third downs.

And the Ravens overcame a rough start, displaying a hard-nosed attitude. Baltimore turned the ball over on three of its first four drives of the season.

"I'm proud of our football team," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "I'm proud of the Ravens. I thought we were disciplined. I thought we were poised. I thought we played with fundamental soundness.

"That's a team that creates havoc against you and you have to come back and play the next play. We had bad field position for most of the second half, but we kept our poise. Our defense was lights out."

The Ravens wanted to prove a point to Ryan, their former defensive coordinator. And they wanted to flex their muscles while squaring off with the top-ranked defense in the league from last season.

"I think we showed who the No. 1 defense is," said outside linebacker Terrell Suggs, who recorded six tackles and a half-sack. "He knows the caliber of players in this locker room. He was just trying to fire up his team. The better team won.

"I was letting him know he had to deal with me. This is the beast he created, and how he'll have to deal with me. He said he wasn't going to back down, either, and I expect nothing less from Rex Ryan."

The Jets journeyed into the Ravens' red zone twice.

However, they never scored a touchdown and were limited to three field goals.

"They were put in some really tough situations," Harbaugh said. "That's about as good a defensive performance that the Ravens have ever played."

Added Lewis: "We have a rule: If they don't score, they don't win. When the first turnover happened, the first thing we said is, ‘They aren't going to sore.' And we just did what we do best."

Lewis went on a rant earlier in the week when he grew tired of the Jets' bragging on the Hard Knocks program featured on HBO.

It set an emotional tone for the Ravens heading into this game.

"Ray's the Ravens," Harbaugh said. "I think we wanted to win this game for Ray, and we did."

Perhaps the Jets, especially Cromartie, had ignored the scouting report on referee Walt Anderson's crew.

Anderson and his crew threw more flags than anyone else in the NFL last season, assessing 205 penalties for 1,794 yards. That was six more penalties for 172 more yards than any other group of officials.

Cromartie continually grabbed receivers and didn't play the ball, becoming a target for the officials.

Wide receiver Anquan Boldin turned in a textbook pattern in the third quarter, creating separation from confused Jets rookie cornerback Kyle Wilson to haul in a long pass in stride from quarterback Joe Flacco

Three plays later, Boldin simply elevated for another first down.

The Ravens traded for Boldin and signed him to a four-year, $28 million contract this offseason to finally provide the offense with a proven impact receiver.

And the three-time Pro Bowl wide receiver contributed catches of 38 yards and 27 yards to key the Ravens' third-quarter drive, setting up Billy Cundiff's 25-yard field goal that staked Baltimore to a 10-6 lead.

"I'm excited about our weapons," Harbaugh said. "You guys talked about us not having weapons, and I would never accept that. Now, we have weapons." It was the crispest moment all night for a Ravens offense that appeared out of sync at times, particularly at the start of the game.

"It was Joe giving us chances," Boldin said. "We felt like there was a lot of opportunities for us to make plays out on the field. I think we made enough plays to come out with the victory."

The Ravens' season got off to an inauspicious start in the third quarter when Flacco got clobbered by defensive end Shaun Ellis and outside linebacker Bryan Thomas on a sack and lost a fumble that was recovered by Sione Pouha.

Marshal Yanda, who shifted to right offensive tackle from right guard, was beaten badly on the play. However, it wasn't entirely his fault. In a continuing bad habit from last season, Flacco held the football far too long.

The defense shut the Jets down, though, limiting them to a 23-yard Nick Folk field goal to trail 3-0.

The Ravens failed to capitalize on a long drive on their ensuing possession, marching down to the Jets' 26-yard line.

However, the scoring opportunity was squandered when McGahee lost a fumble.

Former Ravens linebacker Bart Scott popped the football out of his hands at the Jets' 22-yard line with Pouha recovering again.

The Jets were stonewalling Pro Bowl running back Ray Rice, limiting him to four rushing yards on five carries in the first quarter.

The Ravens fell behind 6-0 on a 28-yard field goal from Folk in the second quarter, a score set up by former Ravens safety Jim Leonhard's 32-yard punt return that could have potentially been a touchdown if not for punt Sam Koch's open-field tackle.

The Ravens began the game with two fumbles and a dropped pass in the end zone from tight end Todd Heap.

Flacco was intercepted in the red zone by Cromartie, who returned it 66 yards. The Jets squandered the opportunity after Cromartie's interception, though, as Shonn Greene fumbled when he ran into the back of one of his offensive linemen.

Flacco wound up finishing the game 20 of 28 for 248 yards, no touchdowns and one interception.

"I think it says a lot about our team," Flacco said. "We didn't obviously want those big plays to be turnovers, but we're the type of team that's going to be confident in ourselves no matter what and go out there and play our game."

And Jets wide receiver Braylon Edwards ran into Cundiff on a field goal attempt to give the Ravens a first down. Plus, Wilson was flagged for pass interference in the end zone while covering T.J. Houshmandzadeh to set up McGahee's touchdown to boost the Ravens to a 7-6 lead at halftime.

"The main goal for us was to get the win," Boldin said. "For us to get the win in a game of this magnitude is definitely big for this organization."

Rice finished the game with 43 yards on 21 carries with a long run of seven yards.

He wasn't looking for glittery statistics, though. He was seeking a win and respect. The native of New Rochelle, N.Y., got in an argument with Ellis before kickoff.

"We didn't have the Hard Knocks show, HBO is not going to win the Super Bowl," Rice said. "It's a respect thing. I don't think they respect us enough to give us credit. Hopefully, now we'll get a little bit of respect from those guys. ..

"It was a lot of heated emotion. This is football. This is a tough guy's sport. When a lion sees blood, they go after it. Our team is the same way. We're a team that fuels off of that stuff."

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