In a game that spoke volumes about their promising future, the Ravens buried their futile past by outlasting the Jacksonville Jaguars, 39-36, yesterday at PSINet Stadium.
There were tears of joy and relief after the Ravens beat Jacksonville for the first time in their brief but contentious five-year rivalry."I think there's a level of shock and a level of excitement," said Ravens quarterback Tony Banks, who shed some of those tears himself after throwing a career-high five touchdown passes. "It's like we won the Super Bowl."
Banks pulled out an improbable victory in the final minute with a 29-yard touchdown pass to tight end Shannon Sharpe - at the end of a 75-yard scoring drive - that gave the Ravens sole possession of first place in the AFC Central Division two weeks into the season.
That capped a furious second-half comeback in which the Ravens wiped out a 17-point first-half deficit, took a 32-26 lead in the fourth quarter, then fell behind in the final two minutes.
When Jacksonville wide receiver Jimmy Smith caught a deflected pass, slipped a tackle by cornerback Duane Starks and completed a 41-yard touchdown play with 1:45 left, the Jaguars had seemingly added another miraculous chapter to their dominance over the Ravens.
"Excuse my doubt," said Ravens linebacker Peter Boulware, "but I thought, 'Here we go again.' Jacksonville always finds a way to come back and beat us.
"In the back of my mind, I'm saying, 'We've got Tony, we've got Shannon, we've got some great players on offense. We've got 1:45 left. If they can do it, we can do the same thing.'"
On a day when the defense generated four turnovers, three of which led to 17 points, the Ravens' trump card was offense. It took Banks just 64 seconds to take the game back, throwing short passes over the middle against a two-deep zone defense.
Banks threw completions of 19 and 15 yards to Billy Davis and a 12-yarder to Obafemi Ayanbadejo to reach the Jacksonville 29. Then he spiked the ball to stop the clock with 48 seconds left.
Then came the touchdown strike on a play that Banks had failed to hit in a season-opening win over the Pittsburgh Steelers a week ago, a deep throw down the middle of the field to Sharpe.
"We had it [open] a couple of times, but for whatever reason, Tony isn't comfortable throwing to the tight end down the middle," Sharpe said. "I thought I was going to give it away; I looked at [Banks] all the way out of the huddle."
Sharpe caught the ball at the 2-yard line, was hit by safety Donovin Darius and lunged into the end zone.
It was the first time in Ravens history that the offense pulled out a victory in the final two minutes, a fact not lost on the defense.
Defensive end Michael McCrary called it the biggest victory in the team's history.
"It says we're headed in the right direction," McCrary said. "It said that the offense had the confidence and composure to go down the field and score. It was a huge turnaround from our teams of the past.
"We've never beaten them, and we needed to know as a team where we stood. This was a good measuring stick."