By Steve DeClue
Special to baltimoresun.com
August 1, 2005
As if the on-the-field offensive struggles weren't enough, star linebacker Ray Lewis was charged with first degree murder after a double stabbing in Atlanta and return specialist Jermaine Lewis lost his son, Geronimo, Dec. 12.
Through it all, the Ravens rode the experience of several veterans, including Shannon Sharpe, Michael McCrary, Rob Burnett and Rod Woodson. This nucleus provided the leadership necessary to keep the team together through tough times, and eventually led the Ravens to a Super Bowl victory.
Second-year head coach Brian Billick wouldn't allow the team to even say the word "playoffs," much less discuss them, forcing Edwin Mulitalo to make up the name "Festivus" as a synonym for a postseason berth.
The Ravens began the season by shutting out Pittsburgh 16-0, and the next week earned a thrilling 39-36 victory over Jacksonville, a game in which quarterback Tony Banks threw five touchdown passes. Despite the breakout performance, Banks was benched after the first half of the season.
Beginning with a 12-0 road victory over Cleveland, the Ravens went five straight games without reaching the end zone, yet found a way to win two of those games. After a 14-6 loss at home to Tennessee, coach Brian Billick had seen enough, and Tampa Bay castoff Trent Dilfer replaced Banks as the starting quarterback.
Dilfer struggled in his first game as a starter, as two long Matt Stover field goals were all the offense could muster in a 9-6 loss to the Steelers at home.
Dilfer and the Ravens made quick work of their touchdown-less streak with a 27-7 victory in Cincinnati, and the offensive woes were soon forgotten. The victory over the Bengals would be the start of a seven-game winning streak that would propel the Ravens into the playoffs with a 12-4 record and a home wild-card game against the Denver Broncos.
The Ravens flexed their offensive and defensive muscle in the postseason. They used a pounding running game featuring rookie running back Jamal Lewis and an unyielding defense to rout Denver 21-3, win for the second time in Tennessee, 24-10, and cruise past the Raiders in Oakland, 16-3, to claim the AFC Championship.
Throughout the season, the Ravens showed a knack for making big plays at crucial moments.
Against the Broncos, Sharpe caught a deflected pass that should have been intercepted and raced 58 yards down the sideline for a touchdown.
Against the Titans, with the score knotted at 10 in the fourth quarter, Anthony Mitchell returned a blocked field goal 90 yards for a touchdown and Ray Lewis ran back an interception 50 yards into the end zone to punch a ticket to Oakland.
In Oakland, with their backs pushed against their own goal line, Dilfer hit Sharpe on a quick slant route over the middle for a NFL postseason record 96-yard touchdown pass to put the Ravens up 7-0. The Raiders would get no closer.
The Ravens would string together an 11-game win streak, steamrolling through the playoffs en route to a 34-7 victory over the New York Giants in Super Bowl XXXV. Cornerback Duane Starks intercepted a pass from Giants quarterback Kerry Collins for a touchdown and Jermaine Lewis answered a Ron Dixon kickoff return for a touchdown with one of his own, giving the Ravens a 27-7 lead and sealing their victory. Lewis dedicated the touchdown to his recently deceased son, raising his index finger to the sky as he raced into the end zone. The play set a Super Bowl record as the first time back-to-back kickoff returns resulted in touchdowns.
Ray Lewis was vindicated after a tumultuous offseason, winning MVP of the Super Bowl and Defensive Player of the Year and was cleared of all murder charges. Trent Dilfer exorcised demons and won the Super Bowl in, of all places, Tampa Bay. And then there was the much maligned owner Art Modell, who was heavily-criticized by the national media for moving the historic Cleveland Browns franchise to Baltimore, winning a Super Bowl for the first time.
Ever grateful, the owner savored the championship not only for himself and the team, but the people who made the relocation possible.
"To the people in Baltimore city, to the people in Baltimore County, and to the state of Maryland, this is for you," Modell said, raising the Vince Lombardi Trophy.
The defense showed why it became arguably the greatest of all-time, allowing just 23 points through all four playoff games and breaking or tying a number of Super Bowl records, including equalling the mark of four interceptions in a game.
Five years after leaving Cleveland to give Baltimore its first NFL franchise since the Colts left for Indianapolis in 1984, the Ravens united a city with its first Super Bowl victory since 1970.
The Ravens were World Champions.
The Year in the NFL
The Year in the World