Ravens return to playoffs

Just one year after a salary purge that forced an entire roster overhaul, the Ravens defied critics by rebuilding the team and making the playoffs for the third time in four years.

Once again, head coach Brian Billick and the Ravens couldn't get the passing game going, but the team rode the legs of Jamal Lewis, who broke the 2,000 yard mark, rushing for the second most yards ever in a single season.

The season began with rookie Kyle Boller earning the starting quarterback position and losing 34-15 at rival Pittsburgh in Week 1.

The Ravens quickly rebounded with wins over Cleveland and San Diego before a home loss to Kansas City on a Dante Hall kickoff return for a touchdown. In the Sept. 14 win over the Browns, Jamal Lewis set a new NFL single-game rushing record with 295 yards. The Ravens won three of their next four games, including a 26-6 victory over Denver.

But adversity struck in St. Louis when Boller was knocked out of the game with a sprained knee that would eventually sideline him for the remainer of the season The Ravens turned the ball over seven times in a 33-22 loss to the Rams, and Anthony Wright, a free agent signed in the offseason, became the new starter at quarterback.

After a 9-6 overtime loss at Miami, playoff hopes were fading late in the fourth quarter against the Seattle Seahawks. Down 17 points with just over 8 minutes to play and 10 points with 1:12 remaining, the Ravens made the improbable comeback when Matt Stover kicked a 40-yard field goal to send the game into overtime. Stover kicked the game-winning 42-yard field goal for the 44-41 victory.

The momentum from the Seattle win carried into the next two weeks. The Ravens pummeled the 49ers 44-6 in a game that featured a Ray Lewis interception returned 29 yards for a touchdown. A week later, with the AFC North division lead on the line, Jamal Lewis rushed for 180 yards and a career-high three touchdowns in a 31-13 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals.

The Ravens split their next two games, leaving the AFC North division title up for grabs heading into the final game of the season. With the Ravens scheduled to play the Steelers on Sunday night, it appeared as though the division winner would depend on the outcome of that game. But Cincinnati lost earlier in the day, making the Ravens-Steelers matchup meaningless.

For the first time in their history, the Ravens were AFC North Champions.

The regular season was not complete without a little history in the making. The Ravens defeated the the Steelers 13-10 in overtime, finishing the season 10-6. More significantly, Jamal Lewis broke the 2,000-yard rushing mark for the season early in the game.

The Ravens hosted a familiar foe in the wild card round as the Tennessee Titans came to town. The Ravens rallied to tie the game at 17 on Todd Heap's 35-yard touchdown catch, but Gary Anderson kicked a 46-yard field goal with 29 seconds remaining to eliminate the Ravens, 20-17.

A successful season came to a disappointing end, but the Ravens were poised to take the next step in 2004.

Season Highlights
  • The Ravens hosted their second playoff game ever against the Tennessee Titans.
  • RB Jamal Lewis rushed for 2,066 yards, second all-time behind Eric Dickerson.
  • FB Alan Ricard recovered a fumble and ran 50 yards for a touchdown against the San Diego Chargers.
  • RB Jamal Lewis rushed for 295 yards against the Cleveland Browns to break the record for most rushing yards in a single game set by RB Corey Dillon.
  • CB Chris McAlister had an 83-yard interception return for touchdown off former Ravens QB Jeff Blake.
  • OT Jonathan Ogden caught a one-yard touchdown pass from QB Kyle Boller against the St. Louis Rams.
  • QB Anthony Wright threw four touchdown passes to WR Marcus Robinson in a 44-41 come from behind win over the Seattle Seahawks.
  • S Will Demps had a 56-yard interception return for touchdown against the Titans.
  • S Ed Reed blocked two punts, both of which he returned for touchdowns.
  • LB Peter Boulware, TE Todd Heap, Jamal Lewis, LB Ray Lewis, McAlister, Ogden, Reed and Adalius Thomas were selected to the Pro Bowl.
The Year in the NFL
  • The Cincinnati Bengals made USC QB and Heisman Trophy winner Carson Palmer the first overall pick in the draft.
  • New England beat Carolina 32-29 in Super Bowl XXXVIII.
  • St. Louis K Jeff Wilkins led the NFL with 39 field goals.
  • RB Priest Holmes set a new single-season record with 27 rushing touchdowns.
  • New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick was named AP Coach of the Year.
  • Bengals QB Jon Kitna was named the AP Comeback Player of the Year.
  • Four teams (San Diego, Oakland, Arizona, New York Giants) finished the regular season with a 4-12 record.
  • St. Louis WR Torry Holt and Bengals WR Chad Johnson led their conferences in receiving.
  • The Patriots' 14-2 regular season record was the best in the NFL.
The Year in the World
  • NASA lost track of space shuttle Columbia moments before it was scheduled to land. Seven astronauts died in what witnesses described as a 'ball of fire' in the sky.
  • California governor Gray Davis was ousted and replaced by Arnold Schwarzenegger.
  • Kobe Bryant was charged with sexual assault in an incident involving a 19-year-old Colorado woman.
  • Millions of Americans and Canadians lost power for two days in one of the biggest blackouts in U.S. history.
  • Eminem won Best Male Performance at the MTV Movie Awards for his role in 8 Mile.
  • Bruce Springsteen won Best Male Vocal at the Grammys for 'The Rising.'
  • The West Wing won an Emmy award for Outstanding Drama Series.
  • Lance Armstrong won his fifth consecutive Tour de France after surviving a battle with cancer.
  • The Florida Marlins won their second World Series, beating the New York Yankees 4-2 in a best-of-seven series.