Game 3: Ravens win on hop, tip and jump

SAN DIEGO -- A week after rewriting the NFL record book, the Ravens delivered one for Ripley's yesterday.

Believe it or not, the Ravens inexplicably rolled past the winless San Diego Chargers, 24-10, on the wings of a lucky bounce, a jaw-dropping leap and an impromptu tip at Qualcomm Stadium.

The snapshots from the Ravens' extended stay in Southern California will feature fullback Alan Ricard's fluke 50-yard fumble return for a touchdown, tight end Todd Heap's soaring 25-yard scoring catch and linebacker Adalius Thomas' awkward deflection that led to the team's final touchdown.

Relying on the strange rather than style, the Ravens (2-1) have their first winning record since the end of the 2001 season and remain tied with the Pittsburgh Steelers atop the AFC North. The Chargers (0-3) dictated the game but not the result, losing their sixth straight home game.

"Yeah, there's a lot of ways to win the game," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "Next time you guys want to shove statistics down my throat -- they had 400 and some odd offensive yards and had 10 points. What did we have: 20 yards of offense and 24 points?"

That exaggeration was not far off the truth.

The Ravens were heavily out-gained, 389-249, and were dominated in time of possession (35:12 to 24:48). They won without cornerback Chris McAlister, a less-than-stellar effort by their run defense and no pass attempts for the final 18 minutes of the game.

The only reliable part of the Ravens' game was running back Jamal Lewis. Seven days after setting the league's single-game rushing record, Lewis again carried the day by accumulating 132 yards and producing the fifth-best two-game total in NFL history (427).

The biggest feat for the Ravens yesterday was turning a 10-3 lead into a 24-3 bulge in a matter of 1:42 late in the third quarter.

Kyle Boller, who continued his up-and-down season by completing 12 of 21 passes for 98 yards, played a part in the scoring wave by showing up on cue.

The rookie quarterback completed all three of his passes for 48 yards during a third-quarter drive, which culminated when Heap came down with a 25-yard touchdown throw. In the left corner of the end zone, the 6-foot-5 Heap rose above 6-1 cornerback Quentin Jammer and caught the pass with his arms extended over Jammer's head.

Boller's second touchdown throw of his career put the Ravens ahead 17-3 with 3:07 left in the third quarter. It was also his last throw of the game.

"Anytime you got Todd one-on-one, you got to give him the ball, and I put it in the place where he could make a play," Boller said.

Two plays after the Ravens' ensuing kickoff, the defense made its play of the game.

With San Diego backed up in its territory, Thomas misread the pass and had to quickly adjust in the midst of his leap. The ball hit off Thomas' midsection and hand and fell into the waiting arms of rookie pass rusher Terrell Suggs.

Suggs' first career interception placed the Ravens at the Chargers' 14 and they dented the end zone on two runs by Lewis.

"He threw it kind of behind me. So, when I jumped, it kind of jammed me," Thomas said. "I'm glad somebody caught it because I definitely gave it away."

The out-of-sync performance fit perfectly into the rhythm of an unusual week. The Ravens flew out two days early to avoid Hurricane Isabel and dealt with the benching of McAlister on Friday after he violated team rules.

The first -- and most memorable -- twist of the game came on the Ravens' second drive. With the Ravens behind 3-0, Lewis dropped the ball as he fell forward through the line of scrimmage.

The fumble took one bounce and into the hands of Ricard, who rambled 50 yards down the middle of the field for the touchdown. With even his mistakes resulting in points, Lewis is finding humor in his fortuitous two-week run.

"I jumped up like the play was called for him and watched him run," said Lewis with a smile. "I didn't know the big dude could run like that. Luckily, he had my back."

Ricard's 50-yard run is even more amazing considering he had 58 yards rushing for his career before this season.

"I saw the ball come in my hands," Ricard said. "I just picked it up and tried to make a play. I was hoping no defensive lineman was going to catch me."

Although the Chargers marched up and down the field seemingly at will, the Ravens caught them when they needed to. San Diego had four drives of 74 yards or longer and had a touchdown and a field goal to show for them.

After the Chargers closed to 24-10, they had momentum on their side as they moved to the Ravens' 17 with 4:17 remaining. But the charge ended when strong safety Ed Reed followed the eyes of quarterback Drew Brees and collected his eighth interception in 19 career games.

"If we give up 10 points a week, that was our goal at the beginning of the year," inside linebacker Ray Lewis said.

The defense settled down in the second half, limiting Chargers quick-cutting running back LaDainian Tomlinson to 30 yards on seven carries and big-play receiver David Boston to 29 yards on three catches.

Silencing Boston was vital since the Ravens didn't have McAlister to cover him. Gary Baxter, who had primarily played free safety this season, stepped up by stepping back, concentrating on not giving up the big play.

"My biggest adjustment was stop jamming and holding onto him," Baxter said. "That's his type of game. I just played off him, read his routes and played mind games with Drew Brees."

Said Billick: "No one carries a bigger burden on something like that than Gary Baxter. But Gary responded magnificently."

In a game that had little to do with reason, the Ravens believe they won yesterday because they kept focused in a week filled with distractions. Their attention now shifts to Sunday's meeting with the unbeaten Kansas City Chiefs.

"To not fade in the second half, it says a lot, a great deal about this team," Billick said. "As I keep saying, this is a young team that's going to be together for a long, long time. To learn this lesson the way we did, it's going to have repercussions for the next four or five years."