It started with Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis staring down massive New York Jets defensive tackle Kris Jenkins at the midfield coin toss. It continued with a chippiness befitting two of the NFL's most intimidating defenses.
It ended with another defensive masterpiece for the Ravens and a 10-9 victory over the Jets at New Meadowlands Stadium.
For Lewis and the Ravens, Monday night's season opener was more of what they've done for a decade. The defense played splendidly, twice denying New York the end zone in a ragged, penalty-marred first half, taking away what Jets coach Rex Ryan wanted to do most -- run the ball.
With the exception of a 21-yard scamper by LaDainian Tomlinson when he got outside linebacker Terrell Suggs, the Jets were unable to move the ball on the ground all night. And quarterback Mark Sanchez couldn't deliver through the air, either.
The Jets grinded for six points in the first half, converting a gift turnover at the Baltimore 11-yard line into a field goal and a 32-yard punt return by former Raven Jim Leonhard into another.
As Lewis indicated in his midweek rant, Sanchez was shaky when forced to throw. The Jets were 0-for-9 on third down deep into the fourth quarter. Their best offensive weapon was punter Steve Weatherford, who dropped four punts inside the Ravens' 20.
A sack and fumble by quarterback Joe Flacco gave the Jets the first chance of the game, little more than two minutes in. An inside run and a short pass moved the Jets to the Ravens' 5. On third down, Sanchez looked for Braylon Edwards in the end zone and threw the ball away.
The Jets accepted a 23-yard field goal by Nick Folk.
In the second quarter, Leonhard returned a punt to the Ravens' 37, where he was wrapped up nicely by punter Sam Koch. Another gift -- a 15-yard personal foul call against linebacker Jameel McClain for a horse-collar tackle -- moved New York to the 19.
Again the Ravens' defense smacked them down. Suggs and safety Dawan Landry stopped a first-down run. Tavares Gooden stopped a second-down run after 5yards, and on third down, Sanchez was forced to scramble up the middle. He slid into the 10 rather than dive for the first down, and Folk came on for a 28-yard field goal.
After putting Lardarius Webb and Bryan McCann on the inactive list, the Ravens technically had just three cornerbacks for the game. But they used safety Haruki Nakamura in the slot on nickel defense, and the Jets were never able to threaten in the passing game. Nakamura more than held his own.
In the fourth quarter, after a punt by Weatherford pinned the Ravens at their 2, the Jets got another big punt return by Leonhard -- this one for 22 yards -- to the Ravens' 35.
On third-and-5, the Ravens sent a middle blitz and Sanchez missed tight end Dustin Keller on an out pattern. Folk hit from 48 yards to get the Jets within 10-9.
Thus, in three field goal drives, the Jets covered a total of 38 yards in 13 plays, hardly the stuff that will get them to the AFC championship game again.
Later in the fourth quarter, the Jets came off their own goal line to their 32 before Haloti Ngata burst through the middle to sack Sanchez on third down.
It was enough to stifle the talkative Jets, for one night at least.
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