If this was their statement game, the Ravens were eloquent yesterday.
If it was a glimpse of the future, they've got a lot to look forward to.
Finding resiliency on defense and a leader on offense, the Ravens dispatched the Jacksonville Jaguars with a raucous 39-36 victory at PSINet Stadium.
On a day when the Ravens finally ended the four-year domination of the Jaguars, they flirted with flashbacks from the past. They fell behind 17-0 in the first quarter, took the lead in the fourth quarter, then relinquished it.
At the end, after the brutal start and torrid comeback, they may finally have become Tony Banks' team.
The Ravens quarterback threw for a career-high five touchdowns and 262 yards. He hit tight end Shannon Sharpe for a 29-yard game-winning touchdown in the final minute at the end of a 75-yard scoring drive. He wiped out a first half of futility with a second half of wizardry.
Emotions ran rampant all day.
"I've still got that emotion right now," an exhilarated Banks said after completing 23 of 40 throws. "I've won games toward the end, but never in this fashion, by stinking it up in the first half and throwing five touchdown passes. You can't ask for anything more.
"I felt like Kurt Warner."
In the second half, Banks was Kurt Warner, the MVP quarterback of the St. Louis Rams. He passed for four of his five touchdowns and 194 yards after intermission.
"He showed he can take a team over and make the throws necessary to win a game," said Ravens wide receiver Billy Davis. "You don't throw for five touchdown passes and not make a statement."
The victory lifted the 2-0 Ravens into sole possession of the AFC Central Division lead, broke an eight-game losing streak to the Jaguars and stamped them as a team to watch this season.
"They're an outstanding club on both sides of the ball," said Jaguars wide receiver Jimmy Smith, who delivered a Herculean performance with 15 receptions worth 291 yards and three touchdowns. "The only thing they were waiting on was Tony Banks' improvement. He grew a lot today."
Banks grew a lot from the first half to the second.
Three third-down penalties on defense dug a 17-point hole in the first quarter. Jacksonville quarterback Mark Brunell capitalized with a pair of TD throws to Smith for 45 and 43 yards, and a 36-yard Mike Hollis field goal.
Next for Ravens Opponent: Miami Dolphins
Site: Pro Player Stadium, Miami
When: Sunday, 8:20 p.m.
TV/Radio: ESPN/WJFK (1300 AM), WLIF (101.9 FM)
Line: Ravens by 2 1/2Series: Dolphins lead 1-0
Last meeting: Dolphins won, 24-13, on Oct. 19, 1997, at Baltimore. The Ravens salvaged a 14-yard scoring pass to Travis Taylor after the first of four Jaguars' turnovers. At halftime, Jacksonville led 23-7, and Ravens coach Brian Billick was looking at the big picture.
"At halftime, I told them one thing," Billick said. "What I told them was, win or lose, it will make no difference. The second half will define who we are. How we conduct ourselves will define the kind of team we are."
It took the Ravens four plays to provide the first definition. A series that started with a 40-yard pass to Taylor ended with a 23-yard touchdown strike to the rookie. Taylor had moved from the flanker position to split end when veteran Qadry Ismail sprained a knee ligament returning a Jacksonville kickoff in the first quarter.
Counting Taylor's touchdown, the Ravens outscored the Jaguars 25-3 over 21 minutes as Banks opened up the offense. There was a 5-yard scoring pass to fullback Obafemi Ayanbadejo, a 12-yard touchdown to flanker Jermaine Lewis, and a 44-yard field goal by Matt Stover. The field goal was Stover's 22nd consecutive, one away from his personal best.
The Ravens' defense surrendered 386 passing yards to Brunell and five field goals by Hollis. But in the fourth quarter, when the Ravens needed it the most, the defense delivered two huge turnovers.
Linebacker Jamie Sharper provided the first when he knocked the ball loose from Jacksonville running back Stacey Mack, then recovered the fumble himself at the 12. Two plays later, Lewis slipped behind cornerback Fernando Bryant for a 12-yard touchdown catch.
When Stover converted his 44-yarder, the Ravens held a 32-26 lead.
They were merely setting the stage, however.
The Jaguars (1-1) answered with a field goal and a miraculous 40-yard TD catch and run by Smith. With just under two minutes to play, Brunell's third-and-six pass caromed off the hands of wide receiver Keenan McCardell and into Smith's waiting arms.
He ran through a would-be tackle by cornerback Duane Starks - who was victimized on both of Smith's earlier touchdowns - to complete a miracle play. It was deja vu for the Ravens, but only for a brief while.
With 1:45 left, Banks got the ball on his own 25 and proceeded to take the Ravens down the field. He hit Davis with passes covering 19 and 15 yards. Then he found Ayanbadejo for 12 more.
"It was all business," Ayanbadejo said of the huddle in that drive. "There wasn't a lot of talk. It was line up and do it. There was like a calm."
Banks spiked the ball with 48 seconds left at the Jacksonville 29. Then, on second down, he rifled a throw deep over the middle to Sharpe, who caught the ball at the 2 and fell forward into the end zone.
An interception by Harris on a fourth-down desperation pass by Brunell ended the game.
The game-winning drive figures to have implications beyond this win.
"Basically, the playoffs run through Tennessee and Jacksonville," Sharpe said, "and we just took a step in the right direction today."
The Ravens seem prepared to take the next step.
"This team is for real for two games," Davis said. "We were able to come through in the clutch in the second half of the second game. If you ask in November, I hope the answer is the same. Now we have to build on this."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun