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After failing to repeat as Super Bowl champions, the Ravens overhauled their entire roster in 2002, releasing veterans including tight end Shannon Sharpe, defensive end Rob Burnett, wide receiver Qadry Ismail, safety Rod Woodson and defensive tackle Sam Adams in a salary cap purge while defensive tackle Tony Siragusa announced his retirement.

Young players including safety Ed Reed, linebacker Ed Hartwell and tight end Todd Heap became cornerstones the organization hoped to build off in the future.

Former third-round draft pick Chris Redman was named the starting quarterback and Jeff Blake was signed as his backup as the Ravens continued to search for that elusive franchise quarterback. Undrafted free agents became commonplace on the roster making the Ravens the youngest team in NFL history with 19 first-year players.

The youth showed in a season-opening 10-7 loss at the Carolina Panthers and was followed by a 25-0 home loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The loss to the Bucs was tempered by the honoring of Baltimore Colts Hall of Fame quarterback Johnny Unitas before the game, who passed away on Sept. 11. Redman, who won the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award at Louisville, Unitas' alma mater, wore black hightops in honor of his hero.

The team recovered to win their next two games, including a 34-23 victory over the Denver Broncos on Monday Night Football. The highlight of the game came with just a second remaining in the first half. Jason Elam's field goal attempt fell short and was caught by Chris McAlister in the end zone. McAlister hesitated for a moment before racing out of the end zone, and aided by a Ray Lewis block, returned it for a 107-yard touchdown, the longest play in NFL history.

After Ray Lewis injured his shoulder in a 26-21 victory at Cleveland, the Ravens dropped a 22-20 decision to the Colts. The Ravens played without four injured starters, including Lewis.

Redman's season ended after being injured in a 17-10 victory against Jacksonville. Blake became the starter for the rest of the season and Redman would eventually have offseason back surgery.

The struggles continued in a 20-17 loss at Atlanta.

Lewis returned to action in a 26-7 loss at Miami as the Ravens dropped to 4-6 on the season. With the painful shoulder affecting his tackling ability, it would be the last game Lewis would play in 2002.

Without Lewis, the Ravens recovered to win three of their next four to keep playoff aspirations alive at 7-7 in the underachieving AFC North division.

The team stumbled down the stretch, losing three of their final four including a 14-13 loss at home to Cleveland that all but ended any playoff hopes.

The Ravens finished the season fittingly with a heartbreaking 34-31 loss at Pittsburgh. After giving up the go-ahead touchdown in the final minute, the Ravens drove down the field and had a chance to win before Blake's short-armed throw into the end zone was intercepted. The Ravens finished with a 7-9 record.

Even though the Ravens failed to make the playoffs for the first time in three years, the season was not a loss. The youngest NFL team ever had gained valuable experience, especially in Lewis' absence. Hartwell stepped up as Lewis' replacement and became a team leader while Heap made his first Pro Bowl appearance. First-round draft pick Reed demonstrated his playmaking ability, leading the team with five interceptions and blocking two punts.

The foundation was set for another playoff push.

Season Highlights

  • CB Chris McAlister set an NFL record for the longest play in NFL history when he returned a short field goal attempt 107 yards for a touchdown.
  • Eight former Baltimore Colts were enshrined into the Ring of Honor. QB Johnny Unitas, WR Raymond Berry, RB Lenny Moore, DT Art Donovan, DE Gino Marchetti, TE John Mackey, OT Jim Parker and LB Ted Hendricks were inducted.
  • RS Lamont Brightful's 95-yard punt return was the longest punt return in the NFL in 2002.
  • The Ravens were 4-0 when scoring a touchdown on special teams.
  • OT Jonathan Ogden, LB Peter Boulware and TE Todd Heap went to the Pro Bowl.
  • S Ed Reed blocked the first punt in Ravens history in the second quarter of the win over the Denver Broncos.
  • Reed blocked his second punt of the year and returned it for a toucdown in a one point win over the Tennessee Titans.
  • RB Jamal Lewis rushed for 1,327 yards, the second 1,000 yard rushing season of his career.
  • LB Ed Hartwell led the team with 191 tackles, the first time in team history someone other than LB Ray Lewis led the team in tackles.

The Year in the NFL

  • The New England Patriots won their first Super Bowl by defeating the NFC champion St. Louis Rams 20-17 in Super Bowl XXXVI at the Louisiana Superdome in New Orleans.
  • Tackle Tony Boselli, a five-time Pro Bowler allocated by the Jacksonville Jaguars, was the first selection of the Houston Texans in the 2002 NFL Expansion Draft.
  • Gillette Stadium opened in Foxboro, Mass. with a crowd of 68,436 fans as the New England Patriots defeated the Philadelphia Eagles 16-15 in a preseason game.
  • Dallas Cowboys RB Emmitt Smith became the NFL's all-time rushing leader, surpassing Hall of Fame RB Walter Payton (16,726 yards).
  • Indianapolis Colts WR Marvin Harrison set the NFL single-season record for pass receptions with 143, surpassing former Detroit Lions WR Herman Moore (123).
  • The 2002 season had 25 overtime games, the most in NFL history.
  • Denver RB Clinton Portis scored 17 touchdowns, tying him for third place all-time among rookies.
  • Seattle Seahawks RB Shaun Alexander scored five touchdowns in a game against the Minnesota Vikings.
  • Kansas City Chiefs WR Marc Boerigter tied an NFL record with a 99-yard pass reception.

The Year in the World

  • Families of about 900 Sept. 11 victims file $100 trillion claim against members of the Saudi royal family, banks, charities, and the government of Sudan, alleging they financed Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida.
  • Conjoined twin girls from Guatemala survive 22-hour surgery to separate them at UCLA Medical Center.
  • Stephen King announces he will retire after the publication of five more books.
  • The Winter Olympics open at Salt Lake City.
  • Robert Blake pleads not guilty to 2001 shooting death of wife, Bonny Lee Bakley.
  • Lisa "Left Eye" Lopes of the hip-hop band TLC dies when the SUV she was driving veers off a road.
  • In the first three days of its release, Spider-Man smashes box office records, grossing more than $114 million.
  • Tom Brokaw announces he will leave NBC Nightly News after the 2004 presidential election. MSNBC anchor Brian Williams will take over.
  • Brazil wins the World Cup, beating Germany, 2–0, for record-setting fifth time. Ronaldo scores both goals.
  • Legendary Boston Red Sox slugger Ted Williams dies in Inverness, Fla., at age 83.
Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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