LANDOVER - The Ravens' best offense came with theirs on the sideline last night.
Manufacturing points off big plays from their defense and special teams, the Ravens used a smoke-and-mirrors act to rally past the Washington Redskins, 17-10, before a national television audience and a boisterous crowd of 90,287 at FedEx Field.
With the Ravens' offense in a self-destructive funk, Ed Reed caused a fumble and returned it 22 yards for a touchdown and B.J. Sams ran back a punt 78 yards for another score. The third quarter was as pivotal as it was peculiar, as those big plays wiped away a 10-0 deficit during a 7 1/2 -minute span in which the Ravens didn't run an offensive play.
"It just shows as a whole we know how to handle adversity, to keep focus and keep it going," said running back Jamal Lewis, who will now serve a two-game suspension for pleading guilty to using a telephone to facilitate a drug-trafficking crime.
Those two touchdowns were all that were needed for the Ravens' defense, which was determined to erase a disheartening performance last week on Monday Night Football.
The defense clamped down of running back Clinton Portis and harassed quarterback Mark Brunell to produce one of the Ravens' most dominating efforts ever. The 107 yards of total offense given up was the second-stingiest defensive performance in franchise history.
"We never doubted ourselves," Reed said. "We wanted to keep fighting and keep fighting hard. This is the Battle of the Beltways. This was for all the bragging rights. We don't play each other until 2008, so this will soak in for a while."
The Ravens' first win over their state rival since 1997 raised their record to 3-2 and kept them within one game of the AFC North-leading Pittsburgh Steelers (4-1) heading into the bye week. Washington's fourth straight loss dropped the Redskins to 1-4 and marked the longest losing streak under coach Joe Gibbs since his rookie season in 1981.
The Ravens were able to pull off the comeback despite a disastrous effort from their offense. Second-year quarterback Kyle Boller, who hadn't been intercepted in 67 straight passes, was picked off on three straight possessions and over a span of eight throws.
Each one of his career-high three interceptions set up the Redskins in Ravens territory, but the Ravens' defense held them to 10 points.
Asked about Boller, coach Brian Billick said, "There were some breakdowns, some bad throws, some bad routes and some things popped up in the air. You know what? Right now I really don't care."
With Boller helping the Redskins more than the Ravens, the defense took it upon itself to generate the points to overcome a 10-0 hole in the third quarter.
On Washington's second drive of the second half, Reed crashed both hands on Brunell's cocked arm to force the fumble. The Pro Bowl safety picked up the loose ball and ran it 22 yards for his fifth career touchdown in 37 career games, cutting the deficit to 10-7.
"You've seen Ed do that so many times," Billick said. "That's what makes him special."
After the defense forced another three-and-out, the Ravens jumped ahead with trickery on special teams.
Sams fielded the punt and faked a reverse to Deion Sanders, leaving a wide-open right side to run. The undrafted rookie had to keep his balance after being pushed around the Washington 35-yard line, tiptoeing along the sideline before finishing off his 78-yard return.
Sams' second touchdown in as many weeks gave the Ravens their first lead at 14-10.
"As long as I have 10 people that have tremendous confidence in me and block for me, I can bring it to the house every time," Sams said.
After the Ravens took a 14-10 lead, they went exclusively to running the ball, staying on the ground for 23 of the final 25 plays. The Ravens grinded out 131 of their 232 yards of total offense in their final three clock-eating drives.
"If you look up momentum in the dictionary, you can put this game in there," left guard Edwin Mulitalo said. "How huge was that to change the momentum of the game?"
On their first possession after Sams' touchdown, the Ravens churned out 59 of 63 yards rushing for one of the offense's two drives over 24 yards.
Matt Stover's 33-yard field goal 3:11 into the fourth quarter put the game in the hands of last season's NFL rushing champion.
Lewis, who gained 97 yards in the second half, was given the game ball by Billick.
"He took the game on his shoulders," Billick said. "That's why we gave him the game ball. We wanted to remind him that we'll be here when he gets back."
What the Ravens wanted to distance themselves from last night was the disturbing game of Boller.
The second-year starter regressed into one of his worst efforts of his career, finishing 9-for-18 for 81 yards passing in a turnover-marred effort. He often overthrew or underthrew receivers, sometimes throwing at the feet of an wide-open receiver.
The Ravens had to play it so safe that he threw the ball twice in the game's final 25 minutes.
"To throw three interceptions in the first half, it's hard to tell yourself to keep going but you have to," Boller said.
Despite only 232 yards of total offense and no touchdowns, the Ravens have made a habit of finding ways to win.
"It's the same formula we had in 2000, the same one we had the past four or five years," linebacker Ray Lewis said. "We can live with that."