Ravens rise to the occasion

Redman-to-Heap provides spark in upset of Denver on Monday night stage

31-point 2nd quarter fuels 1st win

Ravens' McAlister returns missed field goal 108 yards, longest play in NFL history

Ravens 34, Broncos 23

October 01, 2002|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

The football world was supposed to see how far the Ravens had fallen after their historic salary cap dismantling.

Instead, the Ravens ripped apart the previously unbeaten Denver Broncos in the first half before escaping with a 34-23 victory, seizing the national spotlight and commanding new respect to wrap up the NFL season's unpredictable first month.

Turning their trash-talk rhetoric into reality, the Ravens (1-2) strutted within a half-game of the AFC North-leading Cleveland Browns and will play for the division lead Sunday night in Cleveland. The Broncos (3-1) imploded with untimely penalties and special teams gaffes to became the fifth previously undefeated team to fall in Week 4.

"Only in America can you win one game and still be in it," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "So, God bless America."

Said inside linebacker Ray Lewis: "I really think it was a young ballclub coming out and just fighting. The rest is history."

The Ravens' offense, which hadn't scored in 123 1/2 minutes, erupted for three touchdowns during a 31-point second quarter, the most prolific quarter in franchise history.

Tight end Todd Heap, who had been averaging 5 yards per catch, overshadowed his mentor, Shannon Sharpe, with several acrobatic catches and finished with five receptions for 84 yards and two touchdowns.

The special teams and defense, previously devoid of playmakers, proved to game-breakers with a 108-yard touchdown return by Chris McAlister, a blocked punt by Ed Reed and three interceptions.

"That [second] quarter was wild," said Ravens quarterback Chris Redman. "It was great we came together as a team."

The Ravens' ambush was capped by the most surprising play of the game.

Fielding a missed field-goal attempt 8 yards deep in the end zone, McAlister slowed up near the goal line but decided not to take a knee. Breaking free to the outside after a crushing hit by Lewis on the Broncos' Keith Burns at the 5, McAlister went 108 yards untouched and starting high-stepping for the final 30 yards as Billick followed him down the sideline with his hands raised.

The longest play in NFL history gave the Ravens a commanding 31-3 first-half lead.

"That's the way we practiced it," McAlister said. "I watched and hung in the end zone and let my guys set up the wall. All I saw was purple jerseys and green until I hit the end zone."

The Ravens never let their lead dwindle under 11 points in the second half as Denver closed out the game with three touchdowns. They have won 31 straight games when leading in the fourth quarter - the longest current streak in the NFL.

"I told the team just before we came out to follow me," said Lewis, who recorded 18 tackles, broke up two passes and made an interception. "Match my passion. Match my energy."

Trailing 3-0 and with their scoreless drought having been extended to eight quarters, the Ravens went on the attack in the second quarter.

On third-and-one at the Denver 23, Redman made a play-action fake and lofted a toss to Heap in the end zone. With Broncos safety Kenoy Kennedy turned around, Heap leaped over him and hauled in the touchdown pass 45 seconds into the second quarter.

"The pass was just how I like it - high and soft," Heap said. "It was a perfect pass."

Calling a pass play on third-and-short was not considered risky. It was deemed a necessity.

"We have to stab anywhere we can," Billick said. "They're a great team and you can't think you're going to get field goals and win the game."

Heap's grab ended the scoreless streak at 22 series and put the Ravens in an unusual position with a 7-3 lead. Before that, they had led for only two minutes, seven seconds this season.

The Ravens increased their momentum with the first big play by Reed, their first-round draft pick. Flying off the edge, Reed blocked Tom Rouen's punt and gave the Ravens' possession at Denver's 13-yard line.

After a holding penalty pushed the Ravens out of the red zone, Redman found Heap over the middle for a 16-yard pass to put them right back in it. Three plays later, Jamal Lewis took a pitch left and scored on a 2-yard run to give the Ravens a 14-3 lead.

The Broncos, meanwhile, were falling apart.

After receiver Ashley Lelie dropped a pass inside the Ravens' 5 to end another drive, the Ravens were helped by the Broncos' temper. Five Denver penalties - ranging from unsportsmanlike conduct to taunting to a late hit - accounted for 51 of the Ravens' 81-yard scoring drive.

The Ravens capped that possession with a 23-yard field goal by Matt Stover, pushing the margin to 17-3 with 1:57 left in the second quarter.

"Yeah, they were losing their cool," Jamal Lewis said. "We got in their heads early and we dominated up front."

Two plays later, Ray Lewis popped running back Mike Anderson in the back and caught a pass that caromed off Anderson. Lewis' interception was the Ravens' first turnover of the season, but the heroics would be left to Heap.

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