- The Washington Times - Monday, November 3, 2003

BALTIMORE — On a day when the Baltimore Ravens offense simply couldn’t function, the team’s great defense rose to the occasion.

The Ravens’ ferocious pass rush forced two key fourth-quarter fumbles that led to 11 points and standout middle linebacker Ray Lewis made a diving game-saving interception with 49 seconds left as the Ravens held off the Jacksonville Jaguars 24-17 yesterday before 69,486 at M&T; Bank Stadium.

The Ravens sacked Jaguars quarterback Byron Leftwich four times and caused the rookie to fumble twice on consecutive fourth-quarter possessions. Lewis’ second interception of the season saved the Ravens from the possible upset and preserved Baltimore’s lead in the AFC North. The Ravens’ four sacks tied a season high set Oct.19 at Cincinnati.

“You know what, I’m going to take a victory any way it comes,” Lewis said. “And I think we did exactly what we needed to do to come out and win the ball game. No matter how you want to look at it, we’re halfway through the season, we’re leading our division, let’s just figure everything out from here and keep moving on.”

That means entering the toughest stretch of the schedule when the Ravens (5-3) play at St. Louis and Miami and play host to Seattle and San Francisco in the next four weeks. The Ravens realize they have to play better than they did yesterday against the 1-7 Jaguars to beat any of the next four opponents.

“We’ve got to get a lot better than this and we will,” Ravens safety Ed Reed said.

With the Ravens leading 13-10 entering the fourth quarter, left end Anthony Weaver stripped Leftwich of the ball and recovered the fumble, setting up the Ravens at the Jacksonville 24. Seven plays later, kicker Matt Stover made it 16-10 with a 23-yard field goal.

On the Jaguars’ next possession, Pro Bowl outside linebacker Peter Boulware smashed into Leftwich from the blindside as he was about to release the ball and nickel back Tom Knight recovered the fumble at the Jaguars 27. That turnover led to Chester Taylor’s 29-yard touchdown run, and a successful 2-point conversion pass to tight end Todd Heap gave the Ravens a 24-10 lead with 7:33 left.

“If we want to be a good team, we’ve got to get to the quarterback,” Boulware said. “We’ve got to get pressure and we’ve got to get there. All great defenses get to the quarterback.”

The Ravens offense struggled in all facets yesterday. Running back Jamal Lewis, the NFL’s leading rusher with 1,045 yards, gained 68 yards on 21 carries and snapped his string of six consecutive 100-yard rushing games.

Kyle Boller, the Ravens’ rookie quarterback, had his fumble late in the third quarter returned 15 yards for a touchdown by linebacker Akin Ayodele to tie the game 10-10. Boller completed 10 of 23 passes for 156 yards with one touchdown and one interception.

The Ravens rushed for just 103 yards and were outgained 320 to 259 yards by the Jaguars. The Ravens offense scored on its first possession of the game on a dandy 33-yard Boller scoring strike to Heap over the middle. After that, the offense seemed to go downhill and relied on three Stover field goals — 23, 32, and 23 yards — until Taylor found the end zone late in the game.

“We understood coming in that the biggest challenge was to stop Jamal Lewis,” Jaguars safety Donovin Darius said. “They weren’t racking up many yards passing. He was their train, he was the engine that runs their train. We felt like it was something we had to do, and we kept the explosive plays down — running plays over 13 yards except [Taylors run].”

Ray Lewis’ second big interception in back-to-back weeks sealed the Ravens’ sixth straight win over the Jaguars. Battered, bruised, but undaunted, Leftwich rallied the Jaguars from a 14-point deficit.

Leftwich cut the Ravens lead to 24-17 on a 5-yard slant pass over the middle to backup running back David Allen with 3:11 left. After a three-and-out series in which the Ravens consumed just 1:07, the Jaguars got the ball back at its 20 with 1:49 left.

Leftwich completed four of five passes for 54 yards and drove his team to the Ravens’ 31. On third-and-12, Leftwich tried to force a pass into quadruple coverage to wide receiver Cortez Hankton. Hankton, who ran out of bounds on the play, went up and Leftwich’s pass went off his fingertips. Lewis, who was trailing on the play, dove and snared the deflected pass.

Lewis was slow to get up after getting the wind knocked out of him when he landed on the ball.

“When you grab the ball so hard to make sure the referee doesn’t take it away from you, you kind of squeeze it to your chest,” Lewis said. “But the ground doesn’t give and I forgot that.”

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