Eisenberg: A Quarter to Remember

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If you're lucky, you didn't just watch it, you taped it. The first 15 minutes of the Ravens' playoff victory over the New England Patriots yesterday was the greatest quarter in the history of the franchise. If you bleed purple, you're going to want to watch it again. Probably a few times.

In the 220 regular season and postseason games the Ravens have played since they kicked off in 1996, no 15-minute interval has been more exhilarating, satisfying or flat-out, jaw-dropping unbelievable than yesterday's opening quarter.

When they beat the Giants in the Super Bowl in 2001, they slowly built their big lead before putting the game away with two touchdowns in less than a minute in the third quarter – an unforgettable knockout but not a sustained flurry like yesterday's. Their other big wins over the years have usually come in close, back-and-forth games that went down to the wire.

Yesterday was different. The Ravens were like a 100-yard sprinter who comes out of the starting blocks at full speed and wins the race in the first 50 yards, or better, a boxer who hears the opening bell, moves to the center of the ring and immediately uncorks a flurry of searing haymakers, leaving his opponent battered and doomed before he has time to think.

The Patriots, winners of three Super Bowls since 2002, were the favorites, encouraged by numerous historical trends such as quarterback Tom Brady's 23-game winning streak, at Gillette Stadium. The Ravens were coming off an up-and-down regular season, having barely scraped into the playoffs.

New England respected the Ravens but, no doubt, expected to win, as it usually does in January. But sustained success possibly was a detriment here. When the opening kickoff soared into the air, the Ravens were far hungrier, palpably readier.

Ray Rice ran 83 yards for a touchdown on the game's first play, silencing the home crowd. Terrell Suggs stripped the ball from Brady and recovered it on the Patriots' third offensive play, setting up another Ravens touchdown. The game wasn't even five minutes old. And just when it seemed the Ravens' fortunes couldn't get better, Chris Carr intercepted Brady and the offense drove to yet another score for a 21-0 lead.

By the end of the quarter, the Ravens had added a field goal, and the Patriots had committed three turnovers and fallen hopelessly behind. And it was no fluke. The Ravens' offense relentlessly rammed the ball forward with hard-nosed blocking and running. The Ravens' defense seemingly had the answer on every play, almost as if it knew what the Patriots had called.

There was pandemonium on the Ravens sideline, the players and coaches celebrating each big play, and I'm guessing similarly gleeful scenes played out in dens across Baltimore. Great moments are the payoff for the emotional currency fans invest in their teams, but such payoffs are seldom packaged so astoundingly. Considering the playoff setting, championship opponent and the fact that few people expected the Ravens to win, their 24-0 start was as grand as any moment in their history. Their fans certainly haven't witnessed many better scenes. Between Rice's opening run and Brady's picks and grimaces, the moments to treasure just kept on coming, all the way to Patriots coach Bill Belichick's mumbling postgame press conference.

All the Ravens had to do after their start was not collapse, and they did so relatively easily, never letting the Patriots get close. Ravens coach John Harbaugh had his players at just the right emotional pitch, ready to slug someone but not lose their heads. Ray Lewis carried the team emotionally during the week and during the game. Greg Mattison, the defensive coordinator who took a lot of heat earlier in the season, had a masterful plan; the Patriots scored on just two of 12 possessions.

I can keep going. Domonique Foxworth, another guy who took a lot of heat earlier, reduced Randy Moss to a nonfactor. Haloti Ngata and the defensive interior pummeled New England up front. Offensive coordinator Cam Cameron kept things simple, emphasizing the run and what turned out to be, startlingly, a physical mismatch.

These Ravens have had their share of issues during the season, but now, to their credit, no matter what happens the rest of the way, they have produced a legendary event, a moment of genuine local sports history, certain to be recalled for years. It was the day they whipped the mighty Patriots. In the playoffs. In, like, five minutes.

John Eisenberg worked in the newspaper business for 28 years as a sports columnist, with much of that time coming at the Baltimore Sun. While working for the Sun, Eisenberg spent time covering the Ravens, among other teams and events, including the Super Bowl, Final Four, World Series and Olympics. Eisenberg is also the author of seven sports-themed books.

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