9:00 PM ET, September 30, 2002
With an assist from Lewis, Chris McAlister returned a missed field goal 108 yards to put an exclamation point on a remarkable second quarter, and the Ravens cruised past the Denver Broncos 34-23 Monday night. "Quite a game. Quite an experience for these young guys to go in that atmosphere and to do what we did,'' said Ravens coach Brian Billick, whose youthful squad was outscored 35-7 in its first two games. Baltimore (1-2) bounced back with a vengeance against a Denver team that arrived with a 3-0 record. The Ravens set a team record with a 31-point second quarter. The topper came on an alert play by McAlister and yet another gaffe by the Broncos' special teams. With one second left in the half and Baltimore up 24-3, Denver's Jason Elam came up short on a 57-yard field goal try. McAlister caught the ball deep in the end zone, then hesitated before bringing it out. Following a crushing block by Lewis on Keith Burns at the Baltimore 5, McAlister broke to his left and easily outran the coverage. He began waving the ball over his head at the Denver 25 and high-stepped the rest of the way into the end zone. "That's actually how we set it up,'' McAlister said. "You go back and get them to try and go to sleep. Then you go ahead and bring it to our sideline, and everyone sets up a nice wall.'' The key was the block by Lewis. "Chris always asks me to play on the punt return,'' Lewis said. "He said, `You throw the lead block.' I said that if I get the chance, I'll start it off for him. And I did.'' McAlister's 108-yard romp topped the record of 106 yards, set three times previously on kickoff returns. The last time it happened was when Roy Green of the St. Louis Cardinals took a kickoff all the way against Dallas in 1979. McAlister's second career touchdown all but spelled the end for the Broncos (3-1), who were victimized as much by their own mistakes as they were by a team looking for redemption. "Well, Baltimore came to play,'' Denver coach Mike Shanahan said. "They made a number of big plays, did the job they had to do.'' Brian Griese went 35-for-53 for 328 yards, but was intercepted three times. Tom Rouen had a punt blocked and Pro Bowl cornerback Deltha O'Neal was ejected in the second quarter for bumping head linesman Tom Stabile while protesting a pass interference call. "You don't get that close to an official, and he did, and he paid the consequences,'' Shanahan said. The Ravens' Robert Tate took the second-half kickoff 64 yards to set up a field goal to make it 34-3. The Broncos fought back, but it was too big a hole to make up. "We got behind the 8-ball in the first half and couldn't come back,'' Shanahan said. Baltimore, a seven-point underdog, was eager to prove that an offseason overhaul did not rob the team of its spirit -- or ability to win. "Nobody believes in us. We just played together. ... We beat a first-class team tonight,'' Lewis said. O'Neal's double foul accounted for two of eight first-half penalties totaling 86 yards against the Broncos, who had only 15 penalties in their first three games. Down 3-0, Baltimore used a 15-yard punt return by McAlister to take over at the Denver 46. On third-and-1 from the 23, Chris Redman faked a handoff and threw a strike to tight end Todd Heap, who made a leaping catch in the end zone over safety Kenoy Kennedy. "The pass was just how I like it, high and soft,'' Heap said. "I just outjumped the defender.'' That ended a run of 22 possessions without a score for the Ravens, who added plenty more over the next 14 minutes. Top draft pick Ed Reed ended Denver's next possession with the first blocked punt in Ravens history, giving Baltimore the ball at the 13. Jamal Lewis then scored from the 2, his first touchdown since the 2001 Super Bowl, for a 14-3 lead. Denver fell apart on Baltimore's next drive, starting with O'Neal's pass interference call and chest bump of the official. The Broncos were called for five penalties totaling 51 yards on a march that ended with a 23-yard field goal by Matt Stover. Baltimore wasn't done. Lewis picked off a pass by Griese and took it to the Denver 36, and Redman immediately threw a pass into double coverage that Heap caught at the 3. On third down, Heap caught a floater in the left side of the end zone over Sam Brandon. "Heap's making me look good,'' said Redman, who went 13-for-24 for 152 yards and two touchdowns. "Man, I hope we're playing together for a long time.''
Without Ray Lewis, can the Ravens high-step into the playoffs?
Griese threw a touchdown pass in a 19th consecutive game. ... Reed and teammate Gary Baxter made their first NFL interceptions. ... Jamal Lewis ran for 78 yards against the top-ranked rushing defense, which had allowed an average of 47.3 yards rushing per game.
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