In the Ravens' short history in Baltimore, this was by far the team's biggest win. The Ravens had their longest offensive drive ever. They blocked their first field goal. They interrupted a streak of having lost nine of their past 11 games after having a lead in the second half. And they won a game with defense.
Relentless pressure from the defensive front seven forced two interceptions and five sacks yesterday, and the Ravens held the Cincinnati Bengals scoreless in the second half to rally for a 23-10 victory before 52,968 at Memorial Stadium.
It was the Ravens' first win of the season, and it could not have come at a better time, because the team now hits the road for the next three weeks against the New York Giants, Tennessee Oilers and San Diego Chargers.
"In my eye, this was the most critical game," Ravens safety Steven Moore said. "If we lose this one, we're 0-2 in the division, 0-2 in the conference and on the road for three, where we didn't win at all last year.
"And, yeah, while I was out there on the field the thought of losing all of those previous games in the fourth period did cross my mind. But today, I think we finally got the monkey off our backs."
The Ravens (1-1) also hitched a ride on the no-huddle offense for the first time this year in the second half, sparking the team to 20 points and wilting a Bengals team (1-1) that is expected to challenge for the AFC Central title.
The game-winning touchdown came on an 18-yard pass from quarterback Vinny Testaverde to tight end Eric Green with 9: 36 left in the game. That was followed by a 41-yard field goal from Matt Stover with 3: 45 remaining to put the Ravens ahead 23-10.
The Bengals had one more shot at a touchdown with 1: 09 left in the game, but Moore intercepted Jeff Blake's pass in the end zone and returned it to the 15-yard line before the Ravens ran out the remaining 59 seconds.
"The defense played a fine game all the way through and shut them down in the fourth quarter," Ravens coach Ted Marchibroda said. "The offense moved the ball and controlled the game in the fourth quarter. That's the way we've been losing some of these. This time we were able to win and it was a good one.
"The rewards are greater than the sacrifice. Hopefully, this is a first step for us."
Having their entire starting defense on the field was a first for the Ravens this year, preseason included. The Ravens controlled the game with their front line of ends Rob Burnett and Michael McCrary and tackles Larry Webster (one tackle), Tony Siragusa (two) and James Jones (four).
And with the tackles dominating the middle along with linebacker Ray Lewis (team-leading 10 tackles), the Ravens were able to turn McCrary, Burnett, Jones and Boulware loose on the rush against the Bengals' struggling offensive line.
McCrary was playing his first game this season after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery on his left knee the last week in July.
"This was definitely our best defensive game here in Baltimore," Lewis said. "I mean, we had guys flying all over the place, making plays. We had a rush on them, and that's the key to any defense, the rush and controlling with your people up front."
The Ravens also played a lot of two-deep coverage, rolling their safeties over to support cornerback Donny Brady on Bengals receivers Carl Pickens and Darnay Scott. Because of the strategy and the pass rush, Blake was forced to throw fast, short and across the middle, which did result in a couple of big plays, but only one touchdown.
"They had their safeties back deep the whole game," Blake said. "They changed up on us a little from a week ago. Sometimes with their rush, my only option was to hit the back out of the backfield in the flat."
The Ravens had their own offensive problems in the first half.
While the defense held the Bengals to 12 total plays on their first three series, the Ravens advanced into Cincinnati territory five times but came away with only three points. The Ravens trailed 10-3 at the half on an 8-yard touchdown pass from Blake to Pickens and a 46-yard field goal by Doug Pelfrey.
A fumble by receiver Michael Jackson at the Cincinnati 11 that was recovered by linebacker Andre Collins with 14: 51 in the first half killed one drive, and running back Earnest Byner lost another fumble after a 1-yard run to the Bengals' 42 to halt another drive with 12: 04 remaining.
"We were killing ourselves, those fumbles," said Ravens guard Leo Goeas, who played most of the second half at center in place of starter Quentin Neujahr, who left the game with an ankle injury. "We just had way too many breakdowns. Then we went to the no-huddle."
The Bengals were in no shape to keep pace with the no-huddle. Some of the Ravens even joked about it.
"They had a lot of guys laying down out there, getting hurt," said right tackle Orlando Brown. "I was going back to the huddle telling the guys, 'Let's step it up a little, they can't hang.' "
Bengals coach Bruce Coslet said, "We had some substitution problems and that was compounded with some guys going down with leg cramps. There were a couple of times we had trouble getting our calls. We were prepared for it, but they were very effective at it. They do a good job at it, just like Buffalo used to."
The Ravens opened the scoring in the third quarter with a 32-yard field goal from Stover near the midway point, and then went ahead 13-10 on a 5-yard touchdown run by rookie running back Jay Graham with 1: 02 left in the quarter.
Graham's run was set up by a 45-yard pass from quarterback Vinny Testaverde to Derrick Alexander, which brought the ball to the Bengals' 22.
But the Ravens took control of the game on their next possession, a 12-play, 96-yard drive that featured Graham's 48 yards on seven carries. He ran mostly behind Brown and right guard Jeff Blackshear, who dominated left end John Copeland and left outside linebacker James Francis.
Green ended the drive with the pass from Testaverde down the middle of the field.
"We prepared during the week for it, we just went out and pounded on them," Brown said. "We beat them up."
Said Green about the scoring play: "We work on that every day. It leaves me one-on-one with a linebacker and I think I can win that matchup."
After Green's touchdown, there were still some tense moments left, especially for a team that has a history of blowing leads. But Moore came up with the last interception, finishing off a great afternoon for the Ravens.
"During the week, we were practicing that play all along, and they wanted the safety to hang back because they were going to the back-side guy," Moore said. "I was just happy to be there and make the play."
That was just one of many. Another big one came when safety Rondell Jones blocked Pelfrey's 46-yard field-goal attempt with 7: 02 left in the game. Pelfrey also missed two other field-goal attempts.
"Everyone contributed to the victory, offense, defense and special teams," Marchibroda said. "That's Ravens football. It's a big win for us, it's a really good feeling to have."
Ravens 23, Bengals 10