Faced with an all-too-familiar predicament, Will Demps refused to let the Ravens' fate leave his grasp.
The rookie safety quashed a last-ditch rally this time around, intercepting the game's final pass at the 1-yard line to preserve a 17-10 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars yesterday before an anxious sellout crowd at Ravens Stadium.
After the Ravens lost last Sunday after a debatable call, Demps created a little controversy on his part by taking matters into his own hands yesterday. On the pivotal play, Demps decided not to heed his coach's advice and pulled off a successful ad-lib to end the game.
Greeting Demps in front of the locker room, coach Brian Billick shook his hand and said with a smile, "I told you to bat it down." Demps held back a laugh and said, "I'm sorry, Coach."
The Ravens continued their improbable season by finding a comfort zone in their own red zone. They have won twice in three weeks by ending the game with an interception deep in their own territory.
The Ravens (3-3) stand atop the AFC North, a half-game in front of the Pittsburgh Steelers, who play the Indianapolis Colts tonight.
"We make sure you take your blood pressure medicine," Ravens defensive end Adalius Thomas joked.
The Ravens controlled the game with a pound of Jamal Lewis, a dash of Todd Heap and tons of timely turnovers by their opportunistic defense. Lewis powered his way to 119 yards rushing behind a banged-up line, Heap added two more highlight touchdown catches and the defense pocketed three turnovers with injured star linebacker Ray Lewis on the sideline.
But the Ravens won the game by moving past last week's loss in Indianapolis, where a questionable pass interference call led to a game-winning field goal. This time, the Ravens never let the game slip away.
"It just shows you that we're staying on track where we want to go," Jamal Lewis said. "We're not looking back on the last game but looking forward. Now, we're looking forward to Pittsburgh."
The Ravens could have closed out the game with just over two minutes remaining.
With a third-and-four, the Ravens chose to try a short pass to Heap in the flat instead of running more time off the clock. Quarterback Chris Redman overthrew Heap to hand the ball back to the Jaguars with 2:05 left in the game.
"It was worth a shot," Billick said. "Yeah, tactically, you could look at it and say we shouldn't have given them that time. Had we converted the first down, the game is over and it's a smart move. You roll the dice and take your chances."
Starting at their own 17, the Jaguars (3-3) marched 58 yards on eight plays to the Ravens' 25. With 10 seconds remaining, Demps ended any chances of another disappointing loss by picking off Jacksonville quarterback Mark Brunell for his first career interception.
"I just read his eyes knowing that he's going to get it off quick," said Demps, who celebrated by leaping into the arms of Ray Lewis. "I just jumped on it and it was thrown right to me."
The Ravens' first 10 points resulted from turnovers by their defense inside Jacksonville territory.
Near the end of the first quarter, Thomas read a tight end screen and the lineman followed Kyle Brady 9 yards toward midfield. Tipping the pass in the air, Thomas hauled in the interception with his left hand, running it back to the Jaguars' 19 and ending Brunell's streak without a pick at 109 straight passes.
Five plays later, quarterback Chris Redman made a fine play fake to Lewis and found Heap in the back of the end zone. The 1-yard touchdown pass put the Ravens ahead 7-0 two minutes into the second quarter.
"I just fell into it really," Thomas said of his first career interception. "When I tipped it in the air, I knew I could outjump him. I just made the play."
Lewis' third fumble of the season allowed the Jaguars to tie the game at 7-7 with 5:45 left in the second quarter, when Fred Taylor beat the Ravens around the left corner on a 9-yard touchdown run.
But the Ravens pulled back in front off another turnover. Rookie defensive end Tony Weaver got a hand on a Brunell pass, which landed in the hands of linebacker Bernardo Harris at the Jacksonville 22.
Moving 10 yards in six plays, the Ravens used a 30-yard field goal by Matt Stover to take a 10-7 lead with 9:16 left in the third quarter.
"I saw Brunell throwing the ball," Weaver said. "It was a lucky play. Fortunately, Bernardo was there."
The Ravens extended their advantage later in the third quarter on their only lengthy drive of the game. Redman completed three of four passes for 62 yards in an 80-yard drive that was capped by a stellar touchdown run after the catch by Heap.
Making the reception at the 20-yard line, Heap faked out Marlon McCree, broke an arm tackle by Fernando Bryant and pulled Donovin Darius into the end zone. The 20-yard touchdown increased the lead to 17-7 with 41 seconds remaining in the third quarter.
"I knew I just had to make that one guy miss and I felt like I was getting into the end zone," said Heap, who has four touchdown catches this season. "He was expecting me to lower my shoulder on him and hit him. I don't know if he was ready for that."
The Jaguars closed the margin to 17-10 on a 22-yard field goal by Hayden Epstein with 2 1/2 minutes left in the game.
After the Ravens went three-and-out on the ensuing series, Brunell attempted a late rally that was halted by Demps' interception.
"The most impressive thing about today was the fact they didn't panic and they trusted one another," Billick said. "Maybe they're too young to know they ought not be doing this stuff because you're not old enough to be able to adapt. But they're doing it. Boy, this is a big win for us."
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