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Game 5: Hobbled Ravens hold the line

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It was a painful reunion yesterday with Trent Dilfer, but it had nothing to do with the Super Bowl-winning quarterback's one-time grudge against the Ravens.

Entering the game without four starters and then losing two offensive linemen in one series, the Ravens persevered in an ugly yet satisfying 9-7 victory over the San Francisco 49ers before 67,885 at Monster Park.

Injuries continue to take their toll on the Ravens, who were down to three rookie blockers, one healthy tight end and no backup offensive linemen. After making do with their patchwork offense, the Ravens still had to sweat out the 49ers' potential game-winning, 52-yard field-goal attempt that hooked wide right with 2:37 left in the game.

Asked for his take on the Ravens' first road win of the season, coach Brian Billick simply said, "survival."

"Not perfect by any stretch, but we'll look at it [and] pick it apart like we always do," Billick added. "Given the guys we had to throw in there, we grew a little bit today."

The Ravens (3-2) kept within one game of the first-place Pittsburgh Steelers with play reminiscent of Dilfer's days as the Ravens' starter.

The defense imposed its will on the 49ers (2-3), holding them to 163 total yards (a season low for the Ravens) and six first downs (one shy of the Ravens' record). The offense struggled in the red zone, relying on kicker Matt Stover for all the scoring, with field goals from 26, 32 and 49 yards.

It marked the first time since the Ravens' 2000 Super Bowl season that they won a game by scoring only field goals -- but there were plenty of reasons for it.

Already without Pro Bowl left tackle Jonathan Ogden (toe), the Ravens watched Ogden's replacement, Adam Terry (left ankle), and center Mike Flynn (right knee) go down in a nine-play span on their first scoring drive late in the first half.

That meant three rookies -- Jared Gaither at left tackle, Ben Grubbs at right guard and Marshal Yanda at right tackle -- had to step up for the offensive line.

"I look in front of me and I'm like, 'I've been in the league longer than these guys all together,'" quarterback Steve McNair said.

McNair is right. He is in his 13th season, while his makeshift line has combined for eight years of experience.

But the young blockers paved the way for the Ravens to dominate time of possession (38 minutes to 22).

"I told them, 'This is it. You guys are our future and now let's see how you handle it,'" McNair said. "They handled adversity well."

Yet there's more adversity than just injuries facing the Ravens.

They have scored just one touchdown in their past 10 quarters, reaching the end zone once in their past six trips into the red zone. They ran five plays inside the 49ers' 20-yard line yesterday and gained a total of 5yards.

Most players, including left guard Jason Brown, called it frustrating.

"I don't want to see [Stover] kick field goals," Brown said. "When we get down there in the red zone, we got to finish. That's something we have to improve upon. Nine points could potentially have been 21 points."

Others said they shouldn't dwell on not scoring a touchdown.

"When the day is done, what do you want? I guarantee you that you enjoy the win [more] than you enjoy the losses," receiver Derrick Mason said. "The only thing you remember is the 'W'. Everything else is history."

The Ravens will also remember their resiliency.

They came into the game without two starters on defense (cornerback Samari Rolle and defensive lineman Trevor Pryce) and two starters on offense (Ogden and tight end Todd Heap).

When the offensive linemen started dropping, the Ravens said their sideline came together.

"I think it's all about team," linebacker Ray Lewis said. "When we knew what we had to come into the game with and when the injuries hit, every offensive guy came to a defensive guy and said, 'We need you all to carry us.' We know what that means."

Taking advantage of a San Francisco offense playing without its starting quarterback (Alex Smith) and top playmaker (former Maryland tight end Vernon Davis), the Ravens gave up one first down in the first half. The 49ers crossed midfield three times in 10 possessions. Take away two back-to-back completions for 65 yards -- which included a 23-yard touchdown pass -- and Dilfer was 10-for-17 for 61 yards.

"I knew it would be hard," Dilfer said. "Nobody admires the mentality of defense they play more than I do. It is second to none. There's an attitude there, a belief system, a set of core values defensively that makes it very difficult to play good offensive football against them."

After Dilfer's touchdown to Arnaz Battle cut the Ravens' lead to 9-7 in the third quarter, the Ravens never let the momentum totally shift to the 49ers. They held San Francisco to 42 yards the rest of the way.

"We're disappointed because we shouldn't have given up seven," linebacker Bart Scott said. "We should have got a shutout. There's a high standard of excellence around here. We want to pitch shutouts, especially against a team which shouldn't have got a first down against us."

As soon as the game ended, Dilfer hugged Lewis and then shook hands with Billick. After years of blaming Billick for letting him go after the Super Bowl, Dilfer officially made amends with him.

"Very rewarding conversation," Billick said of the midfield meeting. "Very appreciative of him reaching out that way."

Dilfer even went up to Stover, saying, "You still got the old leg."

With Stover's leg and resurgent play of the defense, the Ravens won with the franchise's lowest scoring total in a victory since the former Cleveland Browns moved to Baltimore in 1996.

"We're built a certain way as a team, and all we said was we won't lose this game," Lewis said. "If we get the lead, we won't lose this game. I just think it shows the character of our team."

jamison.hensley@baltsun.com

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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