Friday, January 28, 2011
Nine weeks into the 2000 NFL season, the Baltimore Ravens were 5-4 and hardly seemed likely to reach the postseason, let alone the Super Bowl. But from that point they won seven straight games to close out the regular season, securing a wild card spot with a 12-4 record that placed them second in the AFC Central. From there they dominated the Broncos at home and the Titans (the club that won the division title) and Raiders on the road to win the AFC title and storm into a Super Bowl matchup against the New York Giants on January 28, 2001 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa.
Under Head Coach Brian Billick, the Ravens were propelled forward by the defense. At defensive tackle, Pro Bowler Sam Adams and Tony Siragusa effectively plugged the middle of the line. The brilliant All-Pro MLB Ray Lewis (pictured above) led a unit that included Peter Boulware and Jamie Sharper on the outside. Cornerbacks Duane Starks and Chris McAlister were highly effective and joined in the backfield by 35-year-old Pro Bowl FS Rod Woodson and SS Kim Herring. The unit gave up just 165 points over the course of the 16-game season, shutting out four opponents and allowing no more than one TD in 11 contests. If anything, it had stepped up its game in the playoffs.
At midseason, Trent Dilfer took over for Tony Banks at quarterback and provided good leadership as well as a steady hand as game-manager of a conservative, run-oriented offense that kept mistakes at a minimum. Rookie RB Jamal Lewis came on strong in the second half as well, gaining 1364 yards on the ground. 11th-year veteran TE Shannon Sharpe caught 67 passes. OT Jonathan Ogden anchored the offensive line.
The Giants, coached by Jim Fassel, had also gone 12-4 in winning the NFC East, and won more consistently across the course of the season. QB Kerry Collins took every snap and threw for 3610 yards and 22 touchdowns, reviving his career. Running backs Tiki Barber and Ron Dayne combined for 1776 rushing yards and 13 TDs (although Dayne tailed off badly toward the end), and Barber also added 70 pass receptions for 719 yards. Wide receivers Amani Toomer and Ike Hilliard were effective and caught 15 scoring passes between them. The solid defense featured Pro Bowl LB Jessie Armstead, DE Michael Strahan, MLB Mike Barrow, and CB Jason Sehorn. New York defeated the Eagles in the Divisional playoff round and then routed the Vikings for the NFC title.
The game started quietly as neither team was able to generate much offense, although as they exchanged punts, the Ravens were winning the battle for field position. The Giants had the first possession of the game, but the second and third times they had the ball, they started at their own 13 and one yard lines, respectively. Midway through the first quarter, WR Jermaine Lewis (pictured at left) returned a punt 33 yards into New York territory, and while a holding penalty cost the Ravens ten yards, they started in good field position at the 41. Two plays later, Dilfer threw to WR Brandon Stokley for a 38-yard touchdown and 7-0 lead.
The clubs returned to trading punts, with Sharper intercepting a Collins pass in the second quarter that Baltimore was unable to capitalize on, but which stopped New York’s deepest penetration thus far (to midfield). The Giants nearly got a big break when Armstead intercepted a Dilfer pass and returned it for an apparent TD, but a defensive holding penalty on DT Keith Hamilton nullified the play.
With less than four minutes remaining in the half, the Ravens took over at their own 12 following another punt by the Giants, but following a six-yard completion to Stokley and a two-yard run by Jamal Lewis, Dilfer threw a pass to WR Qadry Ismail for a 44-yard gain down the left sideline to the New York 36. Four plays later, Matt Stover kicked a 47-yard field goal.
The Giants, getting the ball back with 1:34 remaining on the clock, briefly created some excitement as Collins completed a 17-yard pass to WR Ron Dixon and Barber took off on a 26-yard run to the Ravens’ 29 yard line. But on the next play, McAlister intercepted a Collins pass to snuff out the threat and Baltimore held a 10-0 lead going into halftime.
Following a punt by the Ravens on the first possession of the third quarter, Collins was again intercepted, this time by Kim Herring. Tony Banks replaced Dilfer at quarterback for this series (Dilfer had suffered a hand injury), but after Baltimore advanced to the New York 24, Stover missed a 41-yard field goal attempt.
The game settled back into a monotony of short possessions ending in punts until suddenly a stunning scoring spree erupted. First, Starks intercepted a Collins pass and returned it 49 yards for a touchdown to stretch Baltimore’s lead to 17-0. However, Dixon returned the ensuing kickoff 97 yards for a TD to make it a 10-point game again. But on the next kickoff, it was Jermaine Lewis responding for the Ravens with an 83-yard touchdown. In just 36 seconds, a Super Bowl-record three touchdowns were scored, and the tally now stood at 24-7 in favor of Baltimore.
After that outburst, the game settled back into a defensive struggle. Baltimore took advantage of a short punt by Brad Maynard from his end zone to start with good field position at the New York 38 and drove to a three-yard touchdown run by Jamal Lewis. A fumble by Dixon on the ensuing kickoff return set up a 34-yard Stover field goal for the game’s final points. New York gained just one first down in its last four possessions and Baltimore came away the winner by a score of 34-7.
The Ravens defense capped a tremendous year by holding the Giants to 152 total yards and 11 first downs, and Ray Lewis was named the game’s MVP (Lewis accounted for 11 tackles, four assists, and four blocked passes). Collins was sacked four times and intercepted four times as well. Baltimore’s offense did little to generate excitement, but gained 244 yards and didn’t turn the ball over (thanks to the negated interception), as opposed to New York’s five turnovers. The teams set a Super Bowl record by punting 21 times (11 by the Giants, 10 by Baltimore).
Trent Dilfer (pictured below) completed 12 of 25 passes for 153 yards and a touchdown. Jamal Lewis ran for 102 yards on 27 carries that included a TD. Brandon Stokley caught three passes for 52 yards and a touchdown and TE Ben Coates added three receptions for 30 yards.
For the Giants, Kerry Collins had a rough outing, completing just 15 of 39 passes for 112 yards and four interceptions. Tiki Barber led the team in rushing with 49 yards on 11 carries and also caught 6 passes for 26 yards. Ike Hilliard’s 30 yards on three receptions led the team.
“We came after them early, set a tempo,” said Baltimore’s defensive coordinator, Marvin Lewis. “We applied pressure to let them know we'll play our defense and keep attacking and not let anyone take us out of our game.”
Speaking of the kickoff return for a TD by Jermaine Lewis that trumped Ron Dixon’s, Brian Billick said, “The emotional swing of the game at that point, you could see it on their side. When Jermaine took it back the other way, it was more dramatic...The emotional flipflop, even though the points were the same, I think had to be devastating to them.”
It was a triumphant return to Tampa for Trent Dilfer, who had spent six disappointing seasons with the Buccaneers before moving on to the Ravens. However, winning the Super Bowl did not guarantee job security and he was released in the offseason, catching on with Seattle.
The Ravens parted ways with Dilfer due to the free agent signing of the more highly-esteemed Elvis Grbac, who had been a Pro Bowl quarterback for the Chiefs. While Grbac ultimately proved to be a disappointment, the team again made it to the postseason in 2001, once more as a wild card, but fell to Pittsburgh in the Divisional round. New York dropped more precipitously, going 7-9 in ’01 before returning to the postseason as a wild card team in 2002 – the Giants would not vie again for a championship until the 2007 season.