The Ravens' record-setting defense sat in a downtown hotel Saturday night and seethed as New York Jets coach Al Groh delivered a mocking taunt on videotape.
In so many calculated words from a news conference on Wednesday, Groh sarcastically suggested the Jets had no chance against Baltimore's dominating defense. Yesterday, the Ravens answered with one of their most frenetic efforts of a record-setting season. The rebuttal featured six suffocating turnovers, three goal-line stands, and a wild, 34-20 victory at PSINet Stadium before 69,184 that eliminated the Jets from postseason play.
In the end, Baltimore survived a vintage passing performance by ex-Ravens quarterback Vinny Testaverde - 69 pass attempts, 481 yards, three interceptions - to advance to the playoffs with a seven-game winning streak.
If Tennessee beats Dallas tonight as expected, the Ravens will enter as the fourth seed in the AFC and draw a wild-card home game at 12:30 p.m. Sunday against the Denver Broncos.
The 12-4 Ravens wasted little time yesterday regurgitating Groh's ill-conceived remarks about their defense.
"Tell Al Groh his third-grade reverse psychology didn't work," defensive end Rob Burnett said. "Not to disrespect the Jets players, but Al Groh was the one who fueled the fire this week. He didn't believe, but he believes now."
Added defensive tackle Tony Siragusa: "I also want to thank Al Groh. He said we were the best defense in football, and that gave us a lot of confidence going into the game."
The Ravens walked away with NFL records for fewest points (165) and rushing yards (970) allowed in a 16-game season. They tied a team record with six turnovers, including a 98-yard interception return for a touchdown by cornerback Chris McAlister.
They needed every one of them on a day when Testaverde nearly matched Drew Bledsoe's single-game NFL record of 70 pass attempts (1994). His 481 yards represented the most ever by a Ravens opponent. As fate would have it, Testaverde owns the Ravens record for passing yards in a game with 429, set in 1996.
Testaverde accounted for five of those turnovers himself.
"If you throw 69 times, I expect you to put up some yards," said McAlister, whose touchdown return just before the half gave the Ravens their first - and final - lead of the day at 20-14.
"I also expect our defense to respond the way we did. Our defense is capable of getting four or five interceptions."
The Ravens got three yesterday - cornerback Duane Starks got the other two - to thwart the Jets. Three times the Jets had the ball inside the Ravens' 10, but the only points they got came on a 19-yard field goal by Brett Conway in the fourth quarter.
The game was a statistical nightmare for the Ravens. They were outgained, 524-142, in total offense. They produced only five first downs - a team record low - against 22 for New York. They ran only 55 plays to the Jets' 91.
For the second straight week, the Ravens' offense sputtered. Turnovers led to 20 second-quarter points that wiped out a 14-0 deficit. In the second half, punt returner Jermaine Lewis dazzled with touchdown runs of 54 and 89 yards to keep the Jets at a comfortable distance.
The frustration was visible for quarterback Trent Dilfer, who completed just 11 of 25 passes for 99 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions. In his past two games, Dilfer is 23 for 47 for 169 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions.
"We really felt we were going to play good this week," he said. "We knew it'd be ugly. [But] we felt at the end of 60 minutes, we were going to make enough plays to feel good about it.
"That's what's most discouraging. We did not make any plays except for the touchdown."
Except for a 7-yard touchdown pass to split end Qadry Ismail in the second quarter - five plays after Keith Washington recovered a fumbled center snap at the New York 42 - Dilfer did not complete a pass to a wide receiver.
That was as many passes as he completed to himself; Dilfer caught his own pass in the second quarter after it was batted back by defensive tackle Jason Ferguson.
"Obviously, we have to get the offense cranked up better than we've shown the last two weeks, or it's going to be a struggle," coach Brian Billick said. "But the way these guys take care of each other, we'll take wins any way you can.
"To win 34-20 playing the way we did comprehensively against a team as desperate as they were, that speaks well."
The Jets even held rookie running back Jamal Lewis in check. Lewis finished with 52 yards on 22 carries, an average of 2.4.
"The bottom line is, we need to play better," left tackle Jonathan Ogden said. "We've got to hit harder; everybody has to do better. There's no magic formula for playing football. But we can't afford to get into that lapse we had early in the year."
The Ravens at least avoided a potential disaster when both Dilfer and backup Tony Banks had to leave the game with injuries.
Dilfer suffered a sprained ligament in his left wrist on the Ravens' last possession of the half. Although X-rays were negative, Billick opted to have Banks start the second half. On his third play, he slipped retreating to the pocket, then took a hit on his left shoulder as he made a 2-yard gain.
Dilfer returned at that point and finished the game. He said he should not miss any practice time.
Banks' X-rays showed a separated shoulder that makes him questionable for the potential wild-card game. He left the locker room with his arm in a sling.
"I should be fine," Banks said, "because it was my non-throwing shoulder."
The Ravens hope they can say the same for their offense.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun