AFC North: Tony Banks
Baltimore was far from a perfect Super Bowl team in 2000. Most notably, the team had issues at quarterback. The Ravens started with Tony Banks under center but finished with Trent Dilfer, who played efficiently enough for Baltimore to make an incredible run to end the season.
At one point, the Ravens were a middle-of-the-pack, 5-4 team. Then Baltimore got hot, winning seven straight to end the regular season and four more postseason games, including a victory over the New York Giants in Super Bowl XXXV.
Led by middle linebacker Ray Lewis, the Ravens set several defensive records in 2000, including fewest points (165) and fewest rushing yards (970) allowed in a 16-game season. Baltimore also pitched four shutouts.
There were seemingly no weaknesses on defense. Baltimore's defensive line was stout with Adams and Tony Siragusa, the linebackers were elite, and the secondary had stud playmakers at safety (Woodson) and cornerback (McAlister).
Then-rookie tailback Jamal Lewis anchored the offense with 1,364 rushing yards. Tight end Sharpe was the team's most dependable receiver, recording 67 receptions for 810 yards.
Most impressive win: Although the Super Bowl win over the Giants will go down as the biggest game of the season, the most impressive was Baltimore's dominance in the AFC Championship Game, a 16-3 road win over the Oakland Raiders. The Ravens' defense smothered Oakland's high-powered offense led by quarterback Rich Gannon. Baltimore forced five Oakland turnovers.
Research Room: Longtime Ravens kicker Matt Stover made the only Pro Bowl of his 19-year career in 2000. With an inconsistent offense, Stover was clutch in connecting on 35 of 39 field goals. He led the NFL in both field goals made and field-goal attempts that season. Stover also converted all 30 extra-point attempts.
Lone ranger: Ray Lewis remains the only player currently with the Ravens from their Super Bowl team in '00. Now 35, the future Hall of Famer is still playing at a Pro Bowl level. Lewis signed a multi-year deal in '09 to make certain that he retires a Raven.
Several key members from Baltimore's Super Bowl team left the organization in the past several seasons. Jamal Lewis last played for the Ravens in '06, Ogden retired after the '07 season, and McAlister and Stover last played for Baltimore in '08.
Honorable mentions (in order):
2006 (tie): Baltimore finally got solid quarterback play from former NFL MVP Steve McNair, and the Ravens won 13 regular-season games. But in the postseason they ran into nemesis Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts, who eventually won the Super Bowl.
2008 (tie): The Ravens became the first NFL team to win two road playoff games with a rookie quarterback (Joe Flacco). But their run was stifled in fourth quarter of the AFC title game to another eventual Super Bowl champion: The Pittsburgh Steelers.
2001: Baltimore's attempt to defend a Super Bowl title ended with a second-round playoff exit. The Elvis Grbac experiment was a disaster. After signing a big free-agent deal with Baltimore, he had more interceptions (18) than touchdowns (15).
Albert Haynesworth was not impressed. He played them twice and stopped them mostly, albeit not often enough to beat them when it mattered.
|Larry French/Getty Images|
|Joe Flacco has run the Baltimore offense efficiently his first season in the league.|
"I think their offense is weak," he said after the Ravens ousted the Titans, 13-10, at LP Field in the divisional playoffs. "I don't think they have much of an offense. We shut down the run. We shut down pretty much the pass."
Bitterness stoked Haynesworth's comments. Boredom has done the same for many others.
Baltimore's offense doesn't exactly defibrillate the Sunday soul. It is based on such hardcore football tenets as ball control, field position and clock management.
"Nothing that'll make you put your seatbelt on and have a sweat towel off to the side for," said ESPN analyst and former Pro Bowl quarterback Kordell Stewart.
But the Ravens are more intricate than three runs and a visit from the long snapper. Although they'll never be described as prolific, the Ravens head into Sunday's showdown against the Pittsburgh Steelers with one of the NFL's more straightforward and efficient offenses.
Ravens offensive coordinator Cam Cameron has designed a system unassuming rookie quarterback Joe Flacco can handle mainly because a run play never is the wrong play.
Le'Ron McClain, Willis McGahee and Ray Rice propelled the Ravens to an average of 148.5 rushing yards a game, fourth-highest in the league. They ranked 28th in passing offense, trying the third-fewest throws.
The Ravens committed 21 turnovers, a decent figure. Yet when subtracted from their league-high 34 takeaways, their plus-13 turnover margin ranked third.
The Ravens came up with three takeaways deep in their own territory to beat the Titans.
"They had about two or three pass plays and that's about it," Haynesworth lamented. "We gave them a lot of stuff. The offense gave the ball away and kept them in the game."
With the Ravens' incandescent defense providing support, the need for Flacco to take chances is minimized. So often the Ravens' defense would steal the ball, perhaps score on its own and usually set up the offense with a short field.
Or, with the high likelihood of a three-and-out performance from Baltimore's defenders, a simple Sam Koch punt looked good enough that the Ravens would run on third down and be content to flip the field that way.
"It's doing all the right things to put your team in position to win," said Marc Trestman, a former offensive coordinator or quarterbacks coach for seven NFL teams and now head coach of the Montreal Alouettes.
"It would be just totally inappropriate for them to put all the weight on the shoulder of Joe Flacco at this point in his career. They don't have to because they have elements that are dynamic: Their ability to play defense, the ability to get the football, the ability to get to the quarterback, play special teams and run the football."