The 2008 Ravens are starting to look an awful lot like the 2000-01 Ravens, and that’s just about the best compliment you could pay them.
With a suffocating defense and a quarterback who didn’t make any major mistakes — which is more than could be said about his veteran counterpart, Kerry Collins — Baltimore slipped past Tennessee in Nashville, ruining a once-promising campaign for another top-seeded Titans team before it could even get started.
Still, while Ravens rookie passer Joe Flacco may end up being the same everyone eventually associates with this Baltimore win — after all, Matt Stover had the second-most significant hand in the team’s offensive success on Saturday — this was really a classic defensive struggle, an old-school football game that was all about hits, not about speed or flash, particularly after Tennessee lost rookie speedster back Chris Johnson to an ankle injury.
More than one player lost his helmet, and the first one to go hat-less was a bruising back with a double-thick chin strap; Titans fullback Ahmad Hall. Those hits set the tone for a brutal game that saw more injury breaks than TV timeouts. Or at least something close to parity.
Just check out the video from the supershot from Ray Lewis:
And as much as defense ruled the day, turnovers did, too. The Ravens didn’t turn the ball over … the Titans did again and again and again.
One giveaway in particular crushed Tennessee’s season, with tight end Alge Crumpler fumbling the ball away in a pop out near the end zone (it’s the video below), with Baltimore recovering just in front of the goal line, holding on through a three-and-out, punting and then holding the Titans to a field goal on the subsequent drive. The Ravens may not have won the drive, but by holding Tennessee to three, they gave themselves a shot to win, which is exactly what they did when Flacco’s leadership kicked in.
Flacco, the former Division I-AA Delaware star only finished 11-for-22, but he piloted the final 51-yard drive that set up Matt Stover’s second second-half field goal (the first one was set-up by the catch below), which is all Baltimore needed to win.
Add it up. The Ravens have defense, a conservative quarterback and a running game that does just enough to score a solid if small amount of points. Oh, and did we mention that they have a nasty defense? With former accused murderer Ray Lewis? You know, their defense isn’t bad, either.
What is it that wins championships again? Oh yeah, defense. Hmmmm. There might be a message there.