Ravens win first game behind stingy defense

BALTIMORE -- Standing across the white stripe of their own end zone, three feet away from a potentially disastrous start, the Baltimore Ravens' defense dug a moat that may have salvaged their season.

In a dramatic goal-line stand following running back Jamal Lewis' third-quarter fumble, a stout defense battered the New York Jets to manufacture a 13-3 victory that represents the Ravens' first win of the season. Baltimore (1-2) avoided the perils of an 0-3 start, which only three teams since 1990 have overcome to make the playoffs.

Afterward, middle linebacker Ray Lewis ran through the tunnel toward the locker room and bellowed: "That's one, baby!"

It wasn't a pretty win, but the Ravens will take it. Especially when they earned it by revising a familiar formula of defensive strength.

"It was an identity check," rush end Terrell Suggs said. "We claim to be this great defense, but it was yet to be seen until today. The boys showed up and that's how we have to play for the rest of the season. We can't accept nothing other than that."

Leading 6-0 in the third quarter Sunday in front of 70,479 at M&T Bank Stadium, the Ravens had the momentum prior to Jets cornerback David Barrett punching the football out of Lewis' hands. Tight end Todd Heap's hustling tackle of linebacker Victor Hobson at the Ravens' 1 after a 43-yard return set up the goal-line stop.

On first down, Ray Lewis and Suggs slammed running back Curtis Martin to the ground for no yards. Then, Jets former third-string quarterback Brooks Bollinger didn't fool anyone on a bootleg as Lewis sacked him for a 1-yard loss.

Finally, Jarret Johnson and Suggs swarmed Martin, last year's NFL rushing champion, for another 1-yard loss on third down. Martin was limited to only 30 yards on 13 carries and the Jets were held to a field goal for their only points.

"That's as bad as it gets," Martin said. "There's no excuse and I put that burden on myself. There's no reason why we can't get in the end zone." After two games of ineptitude, the Ravens found the perfect opponent to bully. The Jets were severely depleted after losing quarterbacks Chad Pennington and Jay Fiedler to shoulder injuries last week.

"Loved the temperament, loved the passion, loved the execution on what we did and the way we responded across the board," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "Even the adversity of the turnover to not let the guy that picked up the fumble get in the end zone, to have that resolve, outstanding across the board."

As much as the goal-line shutdown appeared to demoralize the Jets' hapless offense, it boosted the Ravens' spirits.

"It really changed our attitude totally as a team," Ray Lewis said. "When Jamal fumbled, there was no holding our heads down."

Defensively, the Ravens limited the Jets to 28 rushing yards for the fourth-best performance in franchise history. Bollinger was constantly harassed in his first NFL start as Baltimore sacked him five times.

The key, though, was shutting down Martin. The likely future Hall of Fame runner gained 119 yards and scored two touchdowns last season against Baltimore in the Ravens' 20-17 overtime win. This time, he averaged only 2.3 yards per carry.

"Anybody can hand the ball off to Curtis Martin," Ray Lewis said. "Bollinger was just somebody they put in there. We played hard-nosed defense, getting to the quarterback, getting to the football."

The Ravens limited New York (1-3) to 152 net yards, eighth-lowest in club history. The Jets produced only eight first downs, averaged just 3.2 yards per offensive play and converted just 3 of 14 third downs (21 percent).

"When everybody tries to be Superman and tries to do something they're not supposed to and get in the wrong gaps, that's when a great back like Curtis Martin can break something," Suggs said. "We stayed disciplined. We didn't let him out."

As strong as the defense was, the Ravens' offense was far from sterling. It gained just 259 total yards, but did enough to muster a win.

Behind two Matt Stover field goals in the first half from 42 and 25 yards, the Ravens built a 6-0 advantage that proved to be enough.

Jamal Lewis was far from dominant, rushing for a season-high 81 yards on 29 carries for a 2.8 average. The Ravens never abandoned the run despite a lack of major production.

"We stayed with it and showed confidence in our offensive line and the confidence in the backfield," Lewis said.

The 2003 NFL Offensive Player of the Year leapt into the end zone with 3:12 remaining in the third quarter for a 1-yard touchdown. The score capped a 13-play, 71-yard drive that lasted 8 minutes and 5 seconds.

"I think it was big," said quarterback Anthony Wright, who completed 15 of 21 passes for 144 yards and no touchdowns while directing a conservative approach. "They were still in the game really. It would have only taken one turnover or just one situation for them to get back in the game.

"It was really big for us to go down and score and I think that kind of solidified the game for us. I think it was very important that gave our defense some hope and let them know that we're going to come back and do our jobs."

The Ravens almost allowed the Jets back in the game with an ill-advised flea-flicker pass in the fourth quarter. Leading 13-3 at the Jets' 39, Wright lofted a pass into double coverage to Clarence Moore. It was short-armed and easily intercepted by Erik Coleman in the end zone.

"We just wanted to go ahead and put it away," Wright said. "We felt that we had been running the ball a lot and figured that maybe they would bite up on the run fake and give us a shot. We just wanted to take a chance."

The defense rose to the occasion again as the Jets failed to capitalize and were dismissed on a three-and-out.

Inside a locker room where a sentiment of relief appeared to be the overriding emotion, the Ravens weren't in much of a celebratory mood.

Not after two weeks of soul-searching and back-to-basics work that included hitting the blocking sled. Not after their hard-nosed goal-line stand.

"It was more like, ‘It's about time and let's get on a roll,'" Suggs said. "Now, this thing can start snowballing."

Aaron Wilson is the chief writer for RavensInsider.Com He is also the Ravens' reporter for the Carroll County Times in Westminster Maryland.

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