With their season on the line -- the goal line to be exact -- the Ravens refused to budge.
The defense delivered a vintage stand at M&T Bank Stadium, where the Ravens relied on a smothering performance to notch a desperately-needed first victory of the season, a 13-3 win over the New York Jets yesterday.
There was no room to run for reigning NFL rushing champion Curtis Martin. There was no place to hide for first-time starting quarterback Brooks Bollinger.
And there was no blinking by the Ravens' defense in the third quarter, when it was backed up against its end zone with the lead hanging in the balance.
"It was our identity check," defensive end Terrell Suggs said. "We claim to be this great defense, but it was yet to be seen up until today. And boy, did it show up."
The Ravens (1-2) allowed 152 yards of total offense, the eighth fewest in franchise history. They gave up 28 yards rushing -- tying the fourth-lowest total in their 10-year existence -- and sacked Bollinger five times.
But the defining moment came after the Ravens' first possession of the second half. Jamal Lewis' fumble gave New York first-and-goal at the 1-yard line with the Ravens holding a tenuous 6-0 lead.
"When we went out [on the field], we looked at our offense and said, 'What's the problem?' " linebacker Ray Lewis said.
The Ravens stonewalled Martin on a run to the left side for no gain. Lewis then chased Bollinger out of bounds on a bootleg for a 1-yard loss, a play that Lewis later said he predicted.
On third down, Suggs and Jarret Johnson -- a replacement for the injured Tony Weaver -- stopped Martin for a 1-yard loss.
Instead of the Jets (1-3) going ahead, they had to settle for a 21-yard field goal by Mike Nugent and a 6-3 deficit. It marked the first time this season that the Ravens' defense had lived up to its signature play.
"The goal-line stand was huge for us," Jamal Lewis said. "It shows how we have each other's back."
The Ravens' offense responded with a 13-play, 71-yard drive that ate up eight minutes of the clock. They ran the ball 10 times during that possession, but the big play was a 24-yard pass to tight end Todd Heap down the middle of the field.
When the Ravens faced the same situation as the Jets -- a first-and-goal at the 1-yard line -- they hammered it in on one run but two tries. After leaping high into the air, Jamal Lewis needed a second effort to crack the goal line and stake the Ravens to a 13-3 advantage with 3:12 left in the third quarter.
"I think I jumped a little too early," Lewis said. "But when I came down, I just found the hole and headed for the goal line."
The Ravens' only touchdown of the game -- their first scored this season outside of a meaningless fourth quarter -- was all that was required.
"I think that kind of solidified the game for us," said Ravens quarterback Anthony Wright, who was 15-for-21 for 144 yards. "I think it was important that we came out and just gave our defense some hope. We just let them know that we're going to come back and do our jobs."
The offense even played a part in keeping the Jets out of the end zone. After Jamal Lewis' fumble, Victor Hobson ran the ball 43 yards before getting tackled by Heap, who took out the New York linebacker's legs at the 1-yard line.
That prevented what would have been the third touchdown scored against the Ravens' offense this season.
"When that happens, you have to do everything in your ability to keep them out of the end zone," Heap said. "There were two guys in front of him, so I was trying to take him out however I could."
Beyond that goal-line stand, the Ravens never allowed New York to cross their 34-yard line. The Jets ran only 13 plays in Ravens territory. Of New York's 48 plays, 29 went for 2 yards or fewer.
The Ravens' game plan was simple: clamp down on Martin and make Bollinger (a third-string quarterback a week ago) beat them. Martin, who rushed for 119 yards last year against the Ravens, was limited to 30 yards on 13 carries, a 2.3-yard average.
Unlike their first two games, the Ravens remained committed to the run even though they didn't have much success.
"It's one of those games that doesn't look pretty on the field," center Mike Flynn said. "If you grind out three- and four-yard gains, and manage the ball, you're going to win."
The ground game allowed the Ravens to control the clock, holding the ball for 16 more minutes than the Jets. The Ravens are 20-3 when Lewis has 25 or more carries, a statistic not lost on the Ravens defense.
"It's a very easy method with us: We run the football very well and we play hard-nosed defense," Ray Lewis said. "The day we get away from that is the day you see things don't go our way."
After losing their first two games by a combined 49-17 score, the Ravens feel like they are back on the road to respectability.
Heading into the locker room, Ray Lewis shouted, "That's one, baby!" Suggs epitomized the frustration of going winless for the first three weeks of the NFL season by saying, "It's about time."
Still trailing the Cincinnati Bengals by 2 1/2 games in the AFC North, the Ravens know their next challenge: playing three of their next four games on the road.
"I've been here for nine years and this is one of the biggest wins," Flynn said. "We're getting a little confidence now. I think it's something we can build on."
Stuffing the run
With No. 3 QB Brooks Bollinger starting, the Ravens knew the Jets would have to run, and the defense responded by tying the fourth-best performance against the run in team history.
Opp. Date Yards rushing
Bengals, 9/24/00, 4
Saints, 12/19/99, 11
Browns, 10/01/00, 23
Jets, 10/03/05, 28
Browns, 11/26/00, 28
Lions, 12/27/98, 44
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