The 2000 Baltimore Ravens: The Defense Never Rests

The Baltimore Ravens had relocated from Cleveland for the 1996 season and yet to produce a winning record when 2000 began.  But they had gotten to 8-8 in 1999, their first year under head coach Brian Billick. When the 2000 Baltimore Ravens broke through they went all the way—not just to the playoffs, not even just to a Super Bowl title, but with one of the great defenses in modern NFL history.

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Baltimore’s D was anchored by 25-year-old linebacker Ray Lewis. Veteran help came from 35-year-old Rod Woodson at free safety. Mixed in were players like tackles Sam Adams and Tony Siragusa, linebacker Peter Boulware and corner Chris McAllister. Overseeing it all was defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis and they gave up just 10 points a game during the regular season.

A 5-1 start was followed by three straight losses–the combined score was 33-15, illustrating the depth of the offensive problems. Rookie running back Jamal Lewis ran for over 1,300 yards, but quarterback Trent Dilfer would forever become the stumbling block to media pundits who say you need a great QB to win a Super Bowl.

The Ravens closed the season with seven straight wins and though they went in as the wild-card, behind the Tennessee Titans, who were 13-3 (prior to the realignment of 2002 both teams were in the old AFC Central, a division that included all of the current AFC North, along with the Jacksonville Jaguars), Baltimore looked like the second-best team—maybe not just in the AFC, but the entire NFL.

Baltimore hosted the Denver Broncos in the first round and produced a workmanlike 21-3 win, and it set up the battle at Tennessee. With the game tied 10-10 in the fourth quarter, the Titans were trying a short field goal. It was blocked and came back the other way for a touchdown. Lewis added a pick-6 for good measure and Baltimore was going to the AFC Championship Game.

The Oakland Raiders were the opponent, as Baltimore traveled west. It was the first time the city had been this close to a Super Bowl since the old Baltimore Colts reached the AFC Championship Game in 1971. In fact, the last time the football fans of Baltimore even watched their team play as late as the second round was in 1977…and double-overtime loss to these same Oakland Raiders.

Oakland was the AFC West champ and thus at home, even though the Ravens had the better record. The oddsmakers slotted the Raiders as a six-point favorite—a number big enough to suggest it wasn’t about homefield, but a conviction that the smart money really thought Oakland was better. Even without the benefit of hindsight, it begged the question of whether anyone was watching the Ravens play defense.

The Raiders had an outstanding offense, led by quarterback Rich Gannon, but they were rendered helpless on this day. Dilfer found Shannon Sharpe for a 96-yard touchdown pass and the Ravens won 16-3.

The last step was the Super Bowl against the New York Giants. Once again, it was an opponent that had a deep roots in Baltimore football lore. The Colts of Johnny Unitas went to Yankee Stadium to play Sam Huff’s Giants in the 1958 NFL Championship Game (the biggest game there was in the pre-Super Bowl era). The Colts won in overtime, a game largely seen as a seminal moment in the NFL’s developing popularity.

This year’s Baltimore-New York showdown would have no such drama. The oddsmakers now believed in the Ravens, and even though the Giants had been the top seed in the NFC, Baltimore was a three-point favorite. Even that didn’t do this team justice.

The game was never close and the 34-7 final was notable only for a bizarre sequence of events. With the score 10-0, the Ravens first scored on a pick-6, and then each team returned kickoffs for a touchdown. It killed bettors who taken Under 33 on the totals line, but didn’t impact the result. The defense never rested for the 2000 Baltimore Ravens and they ended up as the 2000 Super Bowl champs.