When the stakes are at their highest, true champions show why they're the best. The AFC championship game is one of those times where the stakes couldn't be higher.
The 2000 AFC championship game was a classic matchup: a high-powered offense vs. a shutdown defense. The Ravens brought the best defense the NFL had ever seen to the table, while Oakland provided the offense. The Ravens found their way to the AFC title game after earning a wild card spot and going 12-4 in the regular season.
The 2000 Ravens smothered opposing offenses, holding them to only 165 total points and 970 rushing yards on the year, each NFL records. Led by the NFL's Defensive Player of the Year, Ray Lewis, the Ravens defense kept them in every game. Despite some struggles on the offensive side of the ball and a three-game losing streak in October, Baltimore may have been the NFL's hottest team going into the playoffs. The Ravens top pick in the 2000 draft, Jamal Lewis, paced the offense and finished with 1,364 yards rushing. Quarterback Trent Dilfer took the helm midseason and guided the Ravens to over 27 points per game in the season's final seven contests.
Oakland boasted a high-octane offense led by future NFL MVP Rich Gannon and wide receiver Tim Brown. During the regular season, Gannon threw for 3,430 yards, Brown posted 1,128 yards receiving and running back Tyrone Wheatley rushed for 1,046 yards, giving Oakland one of the most balanced offensive attacks in the league. The Raiders started fast out of the gate, putting together an impressive 8-1 start. When the playoffs began, the Raiders' 12-4 mark made them favored by many to win the conference.
The game was a defensive struggle from the beginning, with each team showing their toughness and forcing punts. Baltimore's defense would eventually knock Gannon out of the game on a hard hit by Tony Siragusa, forcing backup Bobby Hoying into action. Like the defense had done all season, they clamped down on the Raiders' offensive attack, forcing five turnovers and holding them to three points. The ending result was a 16-3 Ravens win and a berth in Super Bowl XXXV.
Stat of the game
Four interceptions by the Ravens. Baltimore's vaunted defense picked off Gannon and Hoying twice apiece. After forcing 49 turnovers in the regular season, it was turnovers that helped lead the Ravens to the Super Bowl.
Player of the game
Ravens linebacker Jamie Sharper was everywhere. The former second-round pick led the Ravens with nine tackles and added two sacks, two tackles for loss and one interception.
Play of the game
The play that broke the game open was actually not by the Ravens defense. With the game deadlocked at zero and the Ravens pinned inside their own 5-yard line early in the second quarter, Trent Dilfer threw a short slant to tight end Shannon Sharpe on third-and-18 that Sharpe took 96 yards for a touchdown. This play would be the game's only touchdown and gave Baltimore all the breathing room they would need.
Quote of the week
Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley on the Ravens unifying the city: "When you have the job of mayor, you spend all your time trying to shake people by the lapels and make them come out of their shells. You try to break down racial barriers, class barriers, try to instill pride, and nobody has done that as well as this team has done by making it to the playoffs. That's the first time in 23 years for this city, and it's really united people across all sorts of lines. I told the guys that there are a lot of kids in the city taking a lot of pride in this team."
What it meant
Plain and simple, it meant the Ravens were on their way to their first Super Bowl in franchise history. The New York Giants would meet them in Tampa Bay for Super Bowl XXXV. The Super Bowl was played similarly to the AFC championship game, with Baltimore's defense once again not allowing a touchdown. The 34-7 victory over New York gave the Ravens their first Super Bowl title in just their fifth year of existence.