Whether they were going on memory or might yesterday, the Ravens forced three turnovers in the fourth quarter, including Ray Lewis' interception with 44 seconds left, to sidestep an upset and ring up a 24-17 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Celebration quickly turned into uncomfortable silence for the sellout crowd of 69,486 at M&T Bank Stadium when the referees announced that they needed to review Lewis' diving interception at the Ravens' 9-yard line. Three tense minutes later, Lewis was awarded the pick and the Ravens (5-3) were rewarded with their sixth straight win over the Jaguars (1-7).
"I looked at Coach Billick and said, 'I promise you I caught that football,'" said Ray Lewis, who still had a red mark on his ribs. "When you grab the ball so hard to make sure the referee doesn't overturn it, you kind of squeeze it to your chest and the ground doesn't give. I forgot that."
When asked about his thoughts on instant replay this time around, Ravens coach Brian Billick, who was fined $15,000 two days earlier for his Oct. 19 remarks on officiating, said, "I can't afford to tell you my thoughts."
Yesterday's ugly win has the Ravens sitting pretty in the division at the midway point of the regular season. Suddenly, the AFC North leaders have a two-game lead over the Cincinnati Bengals and Cleveland Browns and a three-game bulge over the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The expanded cushion came after a game during which the Ravens lived on the edge.
The Ravens withstood a season-worst effort from the league's leading rusher, Jamal Lewis (68 yards), a season-worst performance from its usually stout run defense (134 yards) and a questionable play call in the fourth quarter.
The hapless Jaguars finished with more first downs (20-9) and more total yards (320-259) than the Ravens. They even had seven trips inside Ravens territory.
"We didn't play really good offensively or defensively," tight end Todd Heap said. "[But] when you come out with a win in a game like that, you have to be happy. We can always get better."
The game seemed to be slipping out of the Ravens' grasp late in the third quarter.
Holding a 10-3 lead, Ravens rookie quarterback Kyle Boller fumbled when fullback Alan Ricard's elbow swung back after a fake. Before Boller could jump on top of his eighth fumble of the season, running back Lewis tried to scoop the ball up but it skipped to the outside.
Jacksonville linebacker Akin Ayodele picked it up and ran 15 yards for the touchdown, tying the game at 10.
On the ensuing kickoff, Lamont Brightful bolted a season-high 58 yards to set up a 32-yard field goal to push the Ravens back ahead, 13-10, with 18 seconds left in the third quarter. The runback swung not only the momentum but also perhaps a disappointing season for Brightful, who had lost his return job to Dedric Ward last week.
"I feel like I've got something to prove every week I go out there," Brightful said. "It feels great when you put pressure on yourself to go out there and prove it to everybody and you come away with a pretty good job."
The Ravens jumped out to a 24-10 lead midway through the fourth quarter by pouncing on rookie quarterback Byron Leftwich.
Sacks by Tony Weaver and Peter Boulware deep in Jacksonville territory forced fumbles, leading to a 23-yard field goal by Matt Stover and a 29-yard touchdown run by Chester Taylor.
"We needed a play, and I just bull-rushed down the middle and fortunately got there," Boulware said. "If we want to be a good team, we've got to get pressure. All great defenses get to the quarterback."