The Ravens' defense may have given up over 400 yards of total offense to the San Diego Chargers on Sunday, but the unit was stingy when it came to giving up points.
In a 31-26 Baltimore victory, the Chargers reached the red zone on five different occasions but only came away with four field goals.
The last time - which came when San Diego was setting up a potential game-winning touchdown - was thwarted when linebacker Ray Lewis flattened running back Darren Sproles for a 5-yard loss on fourth down.
With less than a minute left, Lewis knifed into the backfield untouched, blowing up a play that the Chargers had previously run multiple times.
"They stayed to their form," Lewis said. "As soon as Philip [Rivers, quarterback] dropped down, I shot it and [Sproles] was there. That was probably one of the greatest plays of my career because of my teammates and what we did as a team.
"I read it, and either they make [the play], or I make it."
The fact that Lewis, a 10-time Pro Bowler, was the one to secure the Ravens' perfect 2-0 record did not surprise any of his teammates.
"He's been doing that for a long time," safety Ed Reed noted. "He was gone before the ball was even snapped as soon as Rivers got down. It was a great play, but you expect that from him."
"Ray does some special things out there," tight end Todd Heap added. "I didn't even know what the defensive call was, so I asked some guys, and they said he just read the play. That's what you get when you have one of the best linebackers in the game. He stepped up and made plays."
It was also representative of the Ravens' day. The defense gave way to a Chargers offense that was clicking in the passing attack.
San Diego's two touchdowns were the result of big plays that plagued the Ravens all day. Big plays ate up big chunks of yardage. Sproles took a short throw 81 yards down the right sideline for a score, and quarterback Philip Rivers hit receiver Vincent Jackson with a 35-yard touchdown strike.
They weren't enough to overcome the Ravens' offensive firepower and defensive gumption when it mattered most.
Baltimore got to the red zone four times, as well, but the biggest difference was that their trips resulted in touchdowns.
By advancing their near-perfect red-zone conversion rate for 2009 – with seven touchdowns in eight chances this year – the Ravens were able to withstand San Diego's offensive onslaught.
Jackson, 6-foot-5, 230 pounds, logged six receptions for 141 yards, while 6-foot-4, 260-pound tight end Antonio Gates had five grabs for 78 yards. Along the way, Rivers completed 25 of 45 attempts for a career-high 436 yards and two touchdowns.
"They had basically been throwing jump balls all night," said cornerback Frank Walker, who filled in for an injured Washington (concussion) on the final Chargers drive. "Our coaches tell us all the time to high point the ball and knock it down. If you can't make a play on the ball, you have to knock it down."
Walker actually had a game-saver even before Lewis. With 57 seconds remaining, Walker lined up across the 6-foot-2, 220-pound Legedu Naanee and followed him step-by-step to the end zone. Rivers lofted a high throw from 23 yards out, but Walker was able to break up the play.
While the defense stepped up in the end, it was quarterback Joe Flacco and the offense that sparked the Ravens early.
The Chargers drew first blood when Sproles went the distance on the second drive of the game, but Baltimore was quick to retaliate.
Sproles got free when linebacker/defensive end Terrell Suggs shook off a Sproles block and then pursued Rivers. The diminutive running back hauled in a short dump-off with an entirely open field ahead. Reed raced to intercept him, but Sproles cut back inside at the 25-yard line before crossing the goal line.
On the ensuing series, Flacco made quick work of the San Diego defense. He completed four consecutive passes to set up running back Willis McGahee's 5-yard touchdown run up the middle.
With a depleted defensive line – starting defensive tackle Jamal Williams was placed on Injured Reserve on Saturday (triceps) – center Matt Birk and right guard Chris Chester simply won their battle at the point of attack.
"Our offensive line did a great job," said Flacco. "We felt like we could do what we wanted to do to put some points on the board."
The Chargers returned and again converted a field goal, this time from 29 yards on a drive that was aided by a 45-yard completion to Malcolm Floyd, to take a 10-3 lead.
And again, the Ravens offered a strong rebuttal by marching 78 yards in 11 plays for a 3-yard touchdown run by McGahee. Heap drew a pass interference penalty on linebacker Kevin Burnett that helped move the ball to the 3-yard line one snap before McGahee logged his fourth score of the season.
Flacco then topped another Kaeding field goal with a 27-yard touchdown strike to receiver Kelley Washington just before the first half ended.
"That was a big key to the game. That was what shifted the momentum in our favor," Flacco said. "They got off to a quick start, but we came right back down and answered. It was back-and-forth all game long. We were able to play the field position game and had some good, long drives.
"Everybody was focusing on getting six points. That's the mindset we had in camp. We started well, and we're getting better at it."
The momentum carried into the third quarter before fizzling. Flacco found Heap for a 9-yard scoring toss on one series, but the Ravens later settled for a field goal despite a Rivers interception by linebacker Antwan Barnes earned possession on San Diego's 13-yard line.
Still, Flacco, who went 17-of-26 for 190 yards, was happy with the outcome
"We didn't have a ton of yards today," he said. "But, we put points on the board."
With a few key defensive stops, that was exactly what the Ravens needed.
Check out the sidebars from Sunday's game:
McGahee Powers Ravens' Run Game
Ravens Secondary Saves Best for Last