OWINGS MILLS – Haloti Ngata busted through the line of scrimmage, overwhelming hapless New York Jets offensive guard Matt Slauson.
Then, the Baltimore Ravens’ Pro Bowl defensive tackle rudely slammed Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez to the ground.
All-Pro middle linebacker Ray Lewis decked tight end Dustin Keller with a classic shoulder blow, a suffocating hit in the final minute that put the exclamation point on the Ravens’ gritty 10-9 victory over the Jets Monday night in the Meadowlands.
Between an aggressive front seven, especially rejuvenated outside linebacker Terrell Suggs, and tight coverage from the secondary, it was an epic defensive outing for the Ravens.
"It was the best defensive performance I’ve seen here," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "We were probably one step ahead of them for the most part throughout the course of the game, and it showed up in the results."
The Jets were held to only six first downs, their lowest total since 1976.
They gained just 176 yards of total offense and went 1 for 11 in third-down situations.
The top-ranked rushing offense in the NFL from a year ago was stymied as Shonn Greene was held to 18 yards on five carries and LaDainian Tomlinson rushed for 62 yards on 11 carries, 21 of his yards on one carry.
"The D-line, I thought lived up to its billing," Harbaugh said. "Terrell Suggs just jumped off the field. Ray, his performance speaks for itself. You can name guy after guy. Haloti Ngata was dominant. He just took over the game."
Sanchez passed for just 74 yards and was sacked twice. His longest completion was 13 yards. His passer rating was a putrid 56.4. And he didn’t convert a third down until the final minute of the game.
"We got after him," said Suggs, who recorded six tackles and combined with Jarret Johnson for a sack. "There was really nothing to it. We just had more desire to win. We knew if we’d win the third-down battle, it would be a long day for him. … I think we showed who the No. 1 defense is."
The Jets had only 10 completions in 21 attempts.
Braylon Edwards, who used to give the Ravens problems when he played for the Cleveland Browns, caught one pass for nine yards.
For a secondary that had been heavily scrutinized throughout the offseason and preseason due to injuries to former NFL Defensive Player of the Year Ed Reed and cornerbacks Fabian Washington and Lardarius Webb, it was an encouraging game.
"Everyone wants to talk about the secondary," Harbaugh said. "How’d they play? I like the way our guys played technique on the back end."
Washington, who tore his anterior cruciate ligament last season, and Chris Carr provided sound coverage at cornerback. Dawan Landry and Tom Zbikowski were physical in run support, and Landry had a fumble recovery.
"It’s really sweet because this whole offseason all you heard about was our secondary," Washington said. "And it felt good to go out and perform well in the first game. Now, we have to move on to next week."
A large part of the success can be attributed to scouting and the game plan of defensive coordinator Greg Mattison.
The Ravens took away elements of the Jets’ offense that are normally hallmarks: the running game and the high-percentage throws to the tight end.
Sanchez seemed confused throughout the contest.
"We had a good feel for them," Lewis said. "We knew Braylon is their deep guy. We also knew that Dustin Keller is their big-play guy. We tried to beat those guys up at the line and make their job hard. Eventually, the sacks came and we made Mark Sanchez run around. We had a great game plan and we executed."
The Jets got into the Ravens’ red zone twice, but never scored a touchdown as Baltimore overcame three turnovers and sudden-change situations that usually translate into scores.
They wound up settling for three field goals.
"We bend, but we don’t break," Lewis said. "We have a rule: If they don’t score, they don’t win."
The Ravens don’t have much time to celebrate the victory over former defensive coordinator Rex Ryan’s football team.
They’ve got a key AFC North road encounter looming Sunday against the Cincinnati Bengals, who looked disjointed during a lopsided loss to the New England Patriots to open the season.
The Bengals won the division title last season, sweeping Baltimore.
"Here we are, five days away from last night and we’ve got to play the Cincinnati Bengals, the reigning division champs, at their place," Harbaugh said. "So, that will wipe that relief off pretty fast. It’s very difficult. It doesn’t matter, because that’s our challenge.
"That’s a team that beat us twice last year handily. That’s a very good team, so we’ve got our work cut out for us."