The Ravens used their own special formula - suffocating defense and Matt Stover's steady leg - to beat the Jacksonville Jaguars, 15-10, in a not-ready-for-prime-time game at ALLTEL Stadium last night.
A crowd of 65,194 streamed out of the stadium with 10 minutes left in a ghastly game that may have ended an era in Jacksonville, missing what briefly threatened to be another Jaguars' comeback in this torrid series.All they missed, though, was Jacksonville's sixth turnover of the night, an interception by cornerback Chris McAlister that preserved Baltimore's eighth straight victory in the AFC Central Division.
At 5-1, the Ravens maintained their half-game division lead over the Tennessee Titans, who won yesterday. The Ravens tied the Miami Dolphins for the best record in the AFC.
The Dolphins, who dealt the Ravens their only loss, hold the tiebreaker in the event of a tie.
Touchdowns once again were at a premium last night. Jacksonville got the only one of the game, but it wasn't enough to overcome five Stover field goals. Stover hit from distances of 47, 32, 43, 21 and 24 yards. It was the fourth time he matched his career high of five field goals in a game.
It also signaled more of the same for an offense that hasn't reached the end zone in the last 126 minutes, 39 seconds, or since the Ravens punched in a final touchdown against the Cincinnati Bengals two weeks ago.
Content with the win, Ravens coach Brian Billick was in no mood to discuss his offensive frustrations. The Ravens haven't gotten a touchdown in 13 red-zone penetrations on the road this season. They were 3-for-17 on third downs last night.
"The offense, we held up our end as best we could," Billick said. "Right now's not the time to ask about third-down efficiency, red-zone efficiency. Coulda, shoulda, woulda.
"The emotional toll of what we're having to go through and face a team like that. ... This is our night collectively, and we're going to enjoy it."
The Ravens went into the game without Pro Bowl tackle Jonathan Ogden, who has a sprained ankle, and lost center Jeff Mitchell to a high ankle sprain in the first quarter. Mitchell is doubtful for next week's game at Washington.
Without their two best linemen, the Ravens never mounted a running game, the staple of their offense so far. Jamal Lewis gained 43 yards on 16 carries, and the team averaged 2.3 a carry against a defense determined to stop the run.
Even a career-high nine catches by split end Qadry Ismail couldn't break the offensive spell. Ismail dropped what would have been his 10th catch and a touchdown on a deep ball at the 5-yard line in the fourth quarter.
Quarterback Tony Banks completed 17 of 39 throws for 154 yards.
It was left for the Ravens' defense to preserve the lead that Stover gave them, setting a team record for turnovers in the process. After giving up a 49-yard field goal to Steve Lindsey seven minutes into the game, the Ravens watched Mark Brunell's offense disintegrate.
Brunell fumbled four center snaps from Jeff Smith and threw two interceptions before being benched with nine minutes left in the game for Jamie Martin.
Martin took the Jaguars 75 yards to a touchdown, a 1-yard run by Fred Taylor. That was the first TD given up by the Ravens' defense in 189 minutes, 11 seconds.
The Ravens had plenty of heroes on defense. McAlister not only intercepted Martin to snuff Jacksonville's comeback attempt, but kept wide receiver Jimmy Smith out of the end zone. Smith had eight receptions for 95 yards and no scores, after catching three long touchdown passes in Baltimore's 39-36 win on Sept. 10.
For the first time in the tenure of Marvin Lewis, the Ravens' defensive coordinator assigned McAlister to cover Smith wherever he went on the field.
Safeties Rod Woodson and Kim Herring also had interceptions, both against Brunell. Woodson's was the 57th of his 14-year career, and pushed him past Carolina's Eugene Robinson as the NFL's leading active interceptor. He also tied for ninth with four other players, including Bobby Boyd of the Baltimore Colts, all time.
Middle linebacker Ray Lewis, cornerback Robert Bailey and defensive end Michael McCrary also recovered fumbles for the Ravens. The six take-aways represented a franchise high.
"There's something special about this defensive group," Billick said. "There's something special about this team. Yes, I would like to have done a few more things offensively to contribute. [But] if our job is to do just that, then that's what it's going to be."
The most bizarre play of the game came in the third quarter, with the Ravens backed against their own goal line. Pressured on a second-down pass from the end zone, Banks was intercepted by defensive end Tony Brackens.
Brackens was tackled by left tackle Spencer Folau - Ogden's replacement - and as he stretched out his right arm for the goal line, the ball was knocked loose by left guard Edwin Mulitalo's leg.
The Ravens came up with the ball for a touchback, but the fun was just starting.
Orlando Bobo, who came in when Mitchell was injured, was called for holding on the play. The Jaguars had the choice of taking the interception - and touchback - or the penalty and backing up the Ravens to the 2. They took the penalty and the Ravens withstood a replay challenge by the Jaguars. The Ravens eventually moved the ball off the goal line, but had to punt the ball away.
The loss probably ended Jacksonville's hopes for a Super Bowl. It was the first time the Jaguars (2-4) have lost two straight home games since 1995. It's the first time they've lost three straight games since 1996.
And it was the first time the Ravens have ever won here at ALLTEL Stadium.