Most football fans have experienced memorable moments, championships, games, and even bitter losses in the postseason over the last 87 years. But, many people only remember the champion or the runner-up in the last game of the NFL season, the NFL championship or Super Bowl. The December 18, 1932 playoff game featuring the Portsmouth Spartans (now known as the Detroit Lions) and the Chicago Bears was a memorable event as the NFL’s first postseason game with the Bears winning 9-0. In this special 32 part series, I will analyze each NFL team’s best championship season and the one season where they finished just short of claiming the NFL’s ultimate prize. The fifth team to be analyzed is… the BALTIMORE COLTS/RAVENS!
The 2000 Ravens: Ray Lewis’ Revival in Baltimore
When Ray Lewis was growing up in Bartow, Florida in the mid-1980’s, the city of Baltimore lost their NFL franchise, the Baltimore Colts, in 1984 and waited years for another chance to experience the success the Colts franchise had given to them. But, in 1996, Baltimore was given a chance when owner Art Modell moved the Browns out of Cleveland due to financial issues and in the same year, the Ravens used the 28th overall pick in the 1996 NFL Draft to select Ray Lewis, a two-time first team All-American linebacker from the University of Miami.
Over the next three years, the Baltimore Ravens struggled on the field, but used the NFL Draft to develop a dominant defensive team led by a strong linebacker unit with Ray Lewis, Peter Boulware, and Jamie Sharper as well as a consistent secondary with Kim Herring, Duane Starks, and Chris McAlister. After an 8-8 season in 1999, Baltimore’s front office acquired a few key offensive free agents in quarterback Trent Dilfer, future Hall of Fame tight end Shannon Sharpe, fullback Sam Gash, and drafted running back Jamal Lewis with the 5th overall pick in the 2000 NFL Draft.
With these additions, the 2000 Ravens finished with a 12-4 record and clinched a wild card playoff berth with the NFL’s No.1 ranked defense. After a 5-3 start, Brian Billick, Baltimore’s offensive-minded head coach, benched Tony Banks for Trent Dilfer, who finished the season with a 7-1 record. However, despite the quarterback change, Ray Lewis led a record setting defense that allowed only 165 points during the regular season (fewest points allowed since the 16 game season was implemented in 1978).
In the playoffs, the Ravens won Baltimore’s first playoff game since 1971 in a convincing 21-3 victory over the Denver Broncos before traveling to Tennessee to take on the Titans. In a matchup of AFC Central rivals, the Ravens and Titans were tied at 10-10 entering the 4th quarter before Baltimore’s special teams unit returned a blocked field goal for a TD as well as a key interception return TD by Ray Lewis sent Baltimore to the AFC Championship Game with a 24-10 win.
With a chance to reach Baltimore’s first NFL Championship appearance since Super Bowl V, Ray Lewis and the Ravens defense shut down the Oakland Raiders offense by holding the league’s best rushing attack to a season low 24 rushing yards in a 16-3 victory. Two weeks later, the Ravens arrived at Super Bowl XXXV as a three-point favorite over the New York Giants and Ray Lewis led a dominant defensive performance that forced five turnovers, held the Giants to 152 total yards of offense, and clinched Baltimore’s first Super Bowl title since 1970 by the score of 34-7.
2000 RAVENS OFFENSE
Pro Bowl Selections: LT Jonathan Ogden (All-Pro)
Strengths: Rushing offense and lack of turnovers. After leading the SEC in rushing yards as a freshman in 1997 while playing for the Tennessee Volunteers, rookie Jamal Lewis had the 7th most rushing yards in the NFL in 2000 (1,364) and led the NFL’s 5th ranked rushing attack along with backup Priest Holmes. In Baltimore’s four postseason games, Lewis continued his regular season success with 338 rushing yards and four rushing touchdowns.
The 2000 Ravens also committed the 9th fewest turnovers in the league (26; 19 interceptions, 7 fumbles lost (fewest in the NFL)) due to their run-oriented offense and limited passing attack. Baltimore’s offensive line, led by future Hall of Fame left tackle Jonathan Ogden, also played a big role by allowing a yards per carry average of 4.3 (7th highest in the NFL) in 2000.
Weaknesses: Passing attack. After creating one of the NFL’s best passing attacks in Minnesota in 1998, head coach Brian Billick had the league’s 22nd ranked passing attack in 2000 and Trent Dilfer as well as Tony Banks only threw 20 touchdown passes during the regular season (15th in the NFL).
Despite having a great offensive line, Banks as well as Dilfer combined to have a QB rating of 72.7 during the season (20th in the league) and were sacked 43 times (19th in the NFL). But, Shannon Sharpe and Qadry Ismail were Baltimore’s two primary receiving threats with 116 receptions for 1,465 yards and 10 TD’s.
2000 RAVENS DEFENSE/SPECIAL TEAMS
Strengths: Overall defense and takeaways. After working as a linebacker coach under head coach Bill Cowher in Pittsburgh from 1992-1995, Marvin Lewis, the Ravens defensive coordinator, led the NFL’s No. 1 ranked defense in 2000 (8th in passing, 1st in rushing) and held opposing quarterbacks to a passer rating of 62.5 during the season (3rd lowest in the league). With Ray Lewis and Sam Adams (a free agent acquisition from Seattle) leading the way, Baltimore’s rushing defense only allowed five touchdowns during the season and did not allow any running backs to rush over 100 yards in a game.
The 2000 Ravens also had the most takeaways in the NFL (49; 23 interceptions, 26 fumble recoveries) and their defense was a disciplined unit with only 84 penalties committed (4th best in the league). With future Hall of Fame safety Rod Woodson leading Baltimore’s secondary, the Ravens had 92 pass deflections during the season (6th most in the NFL) and picked off 10 more interceptions in their four playoff games.
Weaknesses: Overall special teams. Despite Matt Stover’s All-Pro season with 135 points scored in 2000 (led all NFL kickers), the 2000 Ravens did have some issues with their special teams unit. Baltimore’s punter, Kyle Richardson, punted 86 times during the regular season, but only had a yards per punt average of 40.2 (22nd in the league) and defensive back Corey Harris struggled to break a big kickoff return all season with a yards/return average of 23.3 on 39 returns (15th in the NFL).
But, the Ravens primary punt returner, Jermaine Lewis, had a memorable year. After tragically losing his son before the postseason, Lewis returned two punt return TD’s in the regular season finale against the Jets before returning a kickoff 84 yards for a touchdown in Super Bowl XXXV against the Giants to secure the win.
UP NEXT… THE STORY OF THE 1968 BALTIMORE COLTS!