Fourteen years ago tonight, the Ravens made a statement.
A powerful, jubilant statement.
In Week 4 of the 2002 season on Monday Night Football, Baltimore hosted the Denver Broncos. The Ravens entered that contest with a 1-1 record (their bye came in Week 3) and having been outscored by the opposition, 35-7.
Their previous game was at home versus the Buccaneers. Baltimore was shut out, 25-0, but was grieving the loss of Colts icon Johnny Unitas (and commemorating the one-year anniversary of 9/11). The Golden Arm passed away on September 11, 2002. Warren Sapp and company were way too much for the Chris Redman-led Ravens to handle. Tampa Bay went on to demolish the Raiders in Super Bowl XXXVII.
So on September 30, 2002, the Ravens had gathered themselves and were adamant about showing the football world they wouldn’t be pushed around in their own house for a second consecutive game.
Unfortunately, that plan didn’t unfold as expected–at least not for the first quarter. Through the first 15 minutes, Denver outscored Baltimore, 3-0. But from that point on, the Ravens ramped up the intensity and absolutely throttled the Broncos.
Within the first five minutes of the second quarter, the Ravens mounted a 14-3 lead and never looked back. Baltimore scored (what still is) a team-record 31 points in the second quarter alone. The last seven of those 31 points turned out to be an emphatic, resounding statement that would be remembered for years to come.
With one second remaining in the first half, Denver’s Jason Elam attempted a 57-yard field goal. The Ravens were leading at the time, 24-3. The Broncos needed some semblance of momentum going into the second half, so they turned to their Pro Bowl kicker.
One problem…Chris McAlister was ready to return the failed attempt in the event it was short.
To this day, that play is tied for 9th-longest in NFL history (playoffs included).
Guess who else had a penchant for big plays on special teams? The man McAlister is tied with: Ed Reed (107-yard interception return in 2008).
It just so happens that Reed, even though he was a rookie, made a historical statement of his own that night. Early in the second quarter, on 4th-and-13 from their own 16-yard line, the Broncos attempted to punt.
Reed had other plans, and successfully blocked the first punt in Ravens history. Three plays later, the Ravens were in the end zone.
The Ravens won, 34-23. It was a thrilling game that acted as a showcase for Baltimore to display its trademark resilience to a national television audience.
The thing I’ll remember most about that night was the way the special teams made me feel. Because of McAlister’s return, Lewis’ block, Brian Billick’s sideline sprint, and Reed’s big block, I felt proud to be a Ravens fan.