Remember the Ravens' defense?
September, 14, 2010
By James Walker | ESPN.com
Jim McIsaac/Getty ImagesA swarming Ravens defense limited the Jets to just six first downs and 176 yards of total offense.EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The self-proclaimed "soon to be champs" opened their new stadium on the NFL's biggest stage, but the party was crashed by the Baltimore Ravens' defense.
Yes, the Ravens added former Pro Bowl receivers Anquan Boldin and T.J. Houshmandzadeh. Sure, they have two Pro Bowl running backs and drafted a pair of rookie tight ends. But the Ravens proved in Monday's 10-9 victory over the New York Jets that they're still a defense-first team.
It's always been that way for the Ravens. So how did we possibly overlook this consistently stout and aggressive defense during Baltimore's eventful offseason?
"I don't care if they [forgot] or not, but they got to respect it now," said Ravens safety Tom Zbikowski, who had four tackles.
New York's defense was ranked No. 1 statistically last season, but Baltimore had the better unit Monday night. The Ravens' stats were off the charts.
Baltimore kept the Jets' home crowd silent by holding New York to just six first downs. The Jets were an abysmal 1-for-11 on third down and gained only 176 yards. Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez looked confused, finishing 10-for-21 for 74 yards.
Most importantly, New York never reached the end zone and settled for three field goals. The Ravens remained a couple steps ahead of the Jets play-calling and execution.
"That's about as good a defensive performance as the Ravens have ever played," Baltimore head coach John Harbaugh said. "Find me a better one."
You knew something was in the air the second Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis took the field Monday night.
An animated Lewis jawed with the Jets -- even during the coin toss. There was a lot of trash talk leading up to the game, mostly from the Jets and head coach Rex Ryan. And Lewis and the Ravens are never one to back down from a war of words leading up to a big game.
The talking became so rampant that Lewis ranted last week that at some point the Jets would have to play football. He finished with four tackles and helped organize a near-perfect defensive performance.
Lewis added an exclamation point by lighting up Jets tight end Dustin Keller when Sanchez threw a lazy pass on New York's final drive.
"It became personal when the schedule came out -- bottom line," Lewis said. "We knew the tradition, and we respect what Rex wanted to bring over to the Jets ... But anytime you challenge a warrior, a warrior is going to respond."
Added Ravens running back Ray Rice: "It was a respect thing. We respect them as opponents. I don't think they respect us enough to give us credit."
For the most part, Baltimore's much-hyped offense sputtered in its 2010 debut. The Ravens had 282 yards but were sloppy with three turnovers (two fumbles, one interception) and untimely penalties.
Quarterback Joe Flacco accounted for two of those turnovers. The Jets rattled him at times and forced a fumble and had a 66-yard interception return by New York cornerback Antonio Cromartie. The combination of Flacco to Boldin (seven catches, 110 yards) helped accumulate just enough offense to score 10 points. For most teams, that would be a losing effort.
"I'm a fan on the sideline," Boldin said of Baltimore's defense. "Just to see those guys in action, and the way they give us the ball back. We turn it over and they come right back. I'm a big fan of this defense."
The Ravens have a major Week 2 AFC North battle against the Cincinnati Bengals, who swept Baltimore last season. The Jets also play a big division game in Week 2, against the New England Patriots.
The talking between the Ravens and Jets will cease for now, but there's always a chance it could pick up later this season.
"We'll probably see them again," Harbaugh said, hinting at a possible rematch in the playoffs.