The Ravens responded to the New York Jets' rhetoric with resiliency.
Overcoming turnovers and capitalizing on penalties, the Ravens wrestled out a season-opening 10-9 victory over the Jets before 78,127 at New Meadowlands Stadium.
A less-than-full-strength Ravens defense became a nightmare for Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez's self-proclaimed "dream team," holding New York to 176 total yards and six first downs (one shy of the Ravens' record). Their offense continually burned cornerback Antonio Cromartie only days after he declared the Jets "the Miami Heat of football," beating him for big plays and drawing four penalties on him.
"It's a compliment to our players to play that kind of a football team in this kind of environment," coach John Harbaugh said. "I thought we were disciplined. I thought we were poised. I thought we played with fundamental soundness."
The Ravens' defense showed its longtime coordinator, Jets coach Rex Ryan, that he might have left but its dominance remains.
Ray Lewis and teammates tormented Sanchez, holding the second-year quarterback to 74 yards passing. The Ravens' secondary, missing safety Ed Reed and cornerbacks Domonique Foxworth and Lardarius Webb, let the Jets convert only one of 11 third downs.
The Jets' defense was atop the NFL last season, but last night
"I think we showed who the No. 1 defense is," linebacker Terrell Suggs said.
Perhaps the biggest statistic is that turnovers and poor special teams play let the Jets start in Ravens territory four times. But the Ravens' defense gave up only three field goals.
"Our defense was lights out," Harbaugh said. "They were put in some really tough situations. That's about as good a defensive performance that the Ravens have ever played."
The defense was fueled by Lewis, who exchanged words with Ryan and New York players all week. Before breaking the pre-game huddle, he chanted, "Family." "Ray's the Ravens," Harbaugh said. "I think we wanted to win this game for Ray and we did."
The Ravens' offense showed fight inside as well. The Ravens turned the ball over three times (fumbles by Joe Flacco and Willis McGahee and an interception by Flacco) in their first four drives of the season.
But the Ravens responded in the final seconds of the first half, when McGahee scored on a tough 1-yard touchdown run that put them ahead, 7-6, a lead they would never relinquish.
Flacco explained that the Ravens never panicked because they practiced against Ryan's defense for years. The players understood that the Jets' defense would make plays.
"We didn't think those big plays would be turnovers," said Flacco, who was 20 of 28 for 248 yards. "But our offense is confident in ourselves to go out there and play our game."
All the hype surrounding the Ravens' improved offense turned into hysteria on their first snap. Flacco took too much time holding the ball -- so much that defensive end Shaun Ellis had time to get up from a chop block by right tackle Marshal Yanda and go after the Ravens quarterback. Viciously sandwiched by Ellis and Bryan Thomas, Flacco fumbled at his own 11-yard line.
But the Ravens defense made sure that Flacco's fifth fumble in 33 career games didn't hurt the team too much. The Jets could only get to the 5-yard line and settled for a 23-yard field goal by Nick Folk.
It appeared that the Ravens' offense had shaken off that demoralizing start with a nine-minute drive. They converted three third downs (of 10, 13 and two yards) and got help on third-and-28 (a holding call on rookie cornerback Kyle Wilson, whom the Ravens passed over in the first round of the 2010 draft).
But tight end Todd Heap dropped a perfectly thrown 29-yard pass from Flacco in the end zone. A few plays later, former Ravens linebacker Bart Scott forced Willis McGahee to fumble at the Jets' 22-yard line.
Once again, the Ravens' defense stopped New York after a turnover, forcing the Jets to punt.
Instead of taking advantage of a turnover, the Jets' offense got jump-started by special teams in the second quarter. Former Ravens safety Jim Leonhard ran back a punt 32 yards and could have gone for a touchdown if not for a tackle by punter Sam Koch. Still, despite getting the ball at the Ravens' 37-yard line, the Jets came away with another short field goal to go ahead, 6-0.
In what became a cruel joke, the Ravens moved the ball downfield only to give it right back to the Jets. After driving to the red zone, Flacco floated a pass in the corner near the end zone for Anquan Boldin. But Cromartie leaped to make the interception, tiptoed along the sideline and returned it 66 yards.
That made it three turnovers in the first four possessions of the 2010 season. Yet once again, the Jets failed to make the Ravens pay for it. Two plays after taking over at the Ravens' 31-yard line, New York running back Shonn Greene fumbled when he ran into the back of his own lineman.
The Ravens immediately moved into Jets territory on a 27-yard pass to T.J. Houshmandzadeh. The Jets helped the Ravens from there, committing one penalty that converted a fourth down into a first (running into the kicker by Braylon Edwards) and another that put the Ravens at the goal line (pass interference on Wilson).
Like most of the night, it wasn't easy for the Ravens. McGahee was stopped for no gain on first down. Flacco overthrew a wide open Le'Ron McClain in the right flat on second down. Then, on third-and-goal, McGahee powered his way in, extending the ball across the goal line with six seconds left in the second quarter.
A disastrous first half for the Ravens ended with them ahead, 7-6.
The Ravens picked up in the third quarter where they had left off, picking on Wilson every time they could. Flacco heaved the ball up to Boldin twice when Wilson was covering him, completing passes of 38 and 27 yards. That led to Billy Cundiff's 25-yard field goal, which extended the lead to 10-6.
"I'm excited about our weapons," Harbaugh said. "You guys talked about us not having weapons, and I would never accept that. Now, we have weapons."
The Jets chipped into the lead on a 48-yard field goal by Folk with 10:29 left in the fourth quarter and had one final chance at a win in the final two minutes of the game. But tight end Dustin Keller ran out of bounds for a nine-yard gain on fourth-and-10 to end the game.
The Ravens left with their third straight season-opening victory and a great deal of respect for the Jets. "We'll probably see them again," Harbaugh said.
Buy Ravens Gear