As the game ended and fans as well as players from both teams flocked onto the field, Ravens quarterback Jim Harbaugh trotted to the sideline and handed the game ball to Colts Hall of Fame quarterback John Unitas.That's Colts, as in Baltimore.
The moment capped a sensational, 17-point, fourth-quarter comeback as the Ravens defeated the Indianapolis Colts, 38-31, yesterday before a crowd of 68,898 and salvaged some respectability for Baltimore's 3-year-old NFL franchise.
On a sunny, warm day that was billed as a grudge match between the Ravens and the Colts who sneaked out of Baltimore on a cold, winter night 14 years ago, the Ravens got heroic performances from such reserves as receivers Floyd Turner and James Roe, an outstanding effort from kickoff returner Corey Harris and a great day from Harbaugh.
That's Harbaugh, as in former Indianapolis quarterback Harbaugh, who completed 16 of 25 passes for 198 yards and two touchdowns. Harbaugh connected with Turner on a corner route for a 22-yard touchdown with 14: 55 left in the game to cut the Ravens' deficit to 31-28. The Ravens went ahead 1: 48 later, when Priest Holmes scored on a 36-yard run.
Matt Stover kicked a 47-yard field goal with 2: 49 left, and safety Ralph Staten caught the carom of a pass intended for Colts running back Marshall Faulk at the Ravens' 20 with 1: 01 remaining. At that point, a section of fans in front of the press box turned and heckled Indianapolis owner Jim Irsay one last time, and the Colts (2-10) were sent packing back to Indianapolis again, this time with a loss despite 540 yards of total offense and 192 yards rushing from Faulk.
"I could tell how much it meant to the fans," Harbaugh said. "They turned on the Colts shortly after they came out there. They turned on us shortly after that. It was either get run out of town, laughed out of town or win the game."
Ravens defensive tackle Tony Siragusa, who used to play in Indianapolis, said: "Going to Indianapolis and hearing about the move, I didn't learn about what exactly happened. I heard both sides of the story when I came to Baltimore. "The people here, they kind of got the short end of the stick, not necessarily from the Colts, but from the league in general. They wanted a little of it back. Today, I hope they got it."
The Ravens (5-7) almost got buried in the first half, when they gave up 339 yards of total offense and trailed 24-13. But on their second series of the third quarter, Harbaugh threw a 53-yard pass to the Colts' 1 to Jermaine Lewis, who beat double coverage. Lewis sprained his right ankle on the play and will miss next week's game.
Two plays later, Holmes dived over from the 2 to make it 24-19 midway in the quarter. More important, Turner knew he had to step in and fill in for Lewis. And it was Turner who caught the two-point conversion after Holmes' run for a 24-21 score.
It was Turner who beat Jason Belser on the corner route that pulled the Ravens within three early in the fourth quarter. Across the field, Roe had four catches for 53 yards and a touchdown while filling in for Michael Jackson, out with a sprained foot.
"I had the corner route the entire time," said Turner, who had three catches for 42 yards. "I had to sell the inside move to the safety so he wouldn't come over. He bit on it, and once he stood up, that's when I knew I had him. After Jermaine got hurt, I looked around and noticed we only had three receivers left. I knew it was up to us."
Give Harris a lot of credit. He had five kickoff returns for 193 yards, including returns of 55, 49 and 47 yards. He helped set up 43-yard and 48-yard field goals by Stover in the first half and Turner's touchdown catch.
"He did a great job of returning," Ravens coach Ted Marchibroda said. "He gave us field position, and the offense took advantage of it. We had other guys step up, like Jim Harbaugh. He almost had to play a perfect game. At the end there, we had to score about every time we had the ball."
The final touchdown was by Holmes, ineffective until the second half. In the first half, Indianapolis did a good job of shutting off the running lanes and forcing the Ravens to throw the ball.
But on "23 roll," right guard Jeff Blackshear and right tackle Orlando Brown were covered. That left center Wally Williams and left guard James Atkins to double-team the defensive tackle. As Holmes started left on a straight handoff, Williams scraped off and blocked middle linebacker Steve Morrison and Holmes cut back to the right for the touchdown.
"We've been working on that play all week," said Holmes, who rushed for 103 yards on 22 tries. "It's just a matter of executing and cutting off the back side."
It was all part of the 17-point fourth-quarter explosion, which is more points than the Ravens have scored in seven games this season. But in the first half, it was the Colts' offense that did the exploding. Actually, the Colts' coaching staff took the Ravens' defensive coaching staff to school.
Indianapolis used a two-tight-end set, keeping one tight end in to block and give rookie quarterback Peyton Manning maximum protection. The Colts also used Manning on rollouts and sprint-outs, which slowed the Ravens' pass rush. Faulk, who is running as well as any back in the league, was used effectively, especially on play-action passes.
The Colts ran a lot of throw-back patterns across the field, and then tortured Ravens cornerbacks Duane Starks and Rod Woodson. The Colts were effective despite losing their top receiver, Marvin Harrison, with a separated shoulder in the first quarter. Starks said later he wasn't mentally in the game. So, just where was the rookie in the biggest game in Ravens history?
He was in great position to make a play near Faulk when Manning lofted a 34-yard touchdown pass with 4: 45 left in the first quarter. But at the last moment, Starks moved behind Faulk and Woodson failed to get in front of the running back in one of the Ravens' ugliest defensive plays of the game.
Then, with 41 seconds left in the first half, wide receiver Torrance Small got inside of Starks on a slant-in move that resulted in a 24-yard touchdown that put Indianapolis ahead 24-10. But it just wasn't Starks; the Colts were working on Woodson just as well.
And the run defense? It had its problems, too, and Faulk caused some of them. But his 68-yard touchdown run in the first quarter was inexcusable. Middle linebacker Ray Lewis, where were you?
"They didn't do anything we didn't expect," Woodson said. "They just caught us flatfooted. I don't know if our heads weren't in the game, but they got up on us real quick. I think we all sucked it up collectively and played better in the second half."
It would have been embarrassing if the Ravens had lost, especially with Indianapolis tearing apart the defense, the heart and soul of the Ravens. Instead, the Ravens can celebrate even though most of their scoring came against a defense that was starting five undrafted free agents.
After all, these were the Colts. Gone from Baltimore, forevermore.
"Give Indianapolis credit, they had a great game plan," said Ravens defensive end Michael McCrary. "Faulk is a great back, and he just made some fantastic runs. Peyton Manning was on target, and he got rid of the ball quick. It's hard to get to a guy who has such a quick release.
"But the bottom line is that we won. We got this monkey off our back. There would have been hell to pay if we had lost this one."
Ravens 38, Colts 31