It didn't take long for the Ravens to give Rex Ryan a big welcome back to Baltimore and Mark Sanchez a fitting welcome to the NFL.
The announced crowd of 70,335 at M&T Bank Stadium was treated to a video tribute honoring Ryan before the defense was introduced with a burst of fireworks.
And then, the defense that Ryan helped cultivate as coordinator from 2005-08, a span over which the Ravens never finished lower than No. 6 in the NFL, made Sanchez's life miserable.
On the second play of the Ravens' 24-23 win over the New York Jets on Monday night, the rookie Sanchez threw an interception to defensive tackle Haloti Ngata at the line of scrimmage, and the 345-pound mountain rumbled 25-yards for a touchdown.
Sanchez nearly tossed his second pick on the ensuing series, when he didn't see linebacker Ray Lewis drop into coverage and Lewis dropped a gift-wrapped pass.
Even though the Ravens were happy to see Ryan, who coached in Baltimore from 1999-2008, they were not keen on giving their former comrade any breaks.
"I don't care if you've coached for us or not, when you play against our defense, it's hard," Lewis said. "You put a young guy like Sanchez in there, and you see your defense, it can be difficult. We shut them out again, and we take pride in that.
"They threw everything at is – draws, reverses. I just think as a defense overall, we just made some great plays."
The Jets didn't get on the board until a majority of the starters were taken out of the game midway through the second quarter. And even then, it was a struggle to move the football.
The Ravens allowed a screen pass to elusive running back Leon Washington to go for 16 yards, and then Washington went up the middle for a 15-yard run to get to the red zone.
But along the way, Sanchez was sacked and nearly lost a fumble on a mishandled exchange.
Sanchez did redeem himself on third-and-9 from Baltimore's 19-yard line, when Washington got free on a wheel route behind linebacker Jameel McClain and hauled in a wide-open touchdown pass, making the score 14-7.
Washington finished with eight rushes for 48 yards for a 6.0-yard average per attempt, while starter Thomas Jones gained 32 yards on eight tries. For a defense that placed third in the NFL at stopping the run last year, it was a blemish on an otherwise strong performance.
"I think one of the things we have got to work on is stopping the run," Ngata said. "We take a lot of pride in that. We didn't do too well, so we have to go back and fix that. But it was good that we were still able to have a dominant defense."
The Ravens added another touchdown before the first half ended on another dominant play from Ngata. With time running out and the Jets on their own 12-yard line, Ngata pushed the pocket so much that he forced backup quarterback Kellen Clemens to throw a weak pass into the middle of the field, where McClain was waiting with open arms.
McClain waltzed untouched into the end zone to make the score 21-7 Baltimore.
"It was a great pressure by Haloti, to be honest, and it was just me being at the right place at the right time and stumbling into the end zone," McClain said with a smile. "It was just trying my hardest not to fall down. Ray said, 'That's how you get over the last play."
The second half didn't begin as the Ravens hoped, and New York's second- and third-teams clawed their way back into contention.
Rookie cornerback Lardarius Webb fumbled the kickoff directly into the hands of Jets linebacker Marques Murrell. Two plays later, Clemens floated a perfect lob to receiver David Clowney, who made a grab in the end zone.
Ravens signal caller Troy Smith was intercepted twice on the subsequent series. One was nullified by offsetting penalties, but the other – to rookie corner Marquice Cole – counted, giving New York possession in Ravens territory.
The Jets advanced to the Ravens' 2-yard line, but held strong when McClain barreled up the middle and nearly sacked Clemens. He did help force a fourth down and a 20-yard field goal, regardless.
In the end, the outcome was not necessarily as close as it would seem, but it was certainly as competitive.
On the Jets' final drive of the night, backup quarterback Eric Ainge marched the offense 74 yards in 18 plays and punched it in with a 1-yard touchdown plunge, closing to within a single point (24-23). Ryan decided to go for two, and Webb batted down the conversion and sealed the Ravens' second preseason victory.
"Man, was that a preseason game?" asked head coach John Harbaugh, who praised Ryan and the Jets' coaching staff for their physical team. "That was exciting. Our guys found a way to win. It was good to see the young guys – guys fighting to make the team, find a way to win the game at the end.
"Them having the ball at the 1-yard line, first down with about a minute left and stop them from getting the two-point conversion, it was pretty impressive."