Some people love preseason football. Others hate it. None think the ticket prices are reasonable.
But the anticipation of the 10 days from the last preseason game to the opener is wonderful and filled with excitement.
–First we have the final day of cuts, with trade possibilities, the slow trickle of information, and the countdown to knowing that “final” roster.
–Then come the waiver claims.
–Then the signing of the practice squad on Sunday.
–And finally, a frenetic week of roster manipulation to fill holes with free agents and by trade.
All of this just a tease for the main event on Sunday. We’ll all go through our rituals and take our favorite seat for the game and for most of us, other distractions will be wholly unwelcome.
The Ravens have played 20 such opening days and this seems as good a time as any to count them down from worst to best:
20. 2013 at Denver—Broncos 49, Ravens 27
Coming off their Super Bowl win, the Ravens lost the traditional Thursday home opener due to a scheduling conflict with the Orioles. The game played in Denver was a nightmare, as Peyton Manning partially avenged his loss to the Ravens in the Mile High Miracle by tying the NFL record of 7 touchdown passes without an interception.
Kevin Byrne had an article on the Ravens website which summed it up best—“Well, that sucked.”
19. 2004 at Cleveland—Browns 20, Ravens 3
The 2003 Ravens destroyed the Browns by a combined score of 68-13, including 500 rushing yards by Jamal Lewis. However, in the 2004 opener, Lewis managed just 57 yards on 20 carries (2.9 YPC), Kyle Boller turned the ball over 3 times (2 interceptions, 1 fumble), and the Ravens defense could not keep up with the offensive ineptitude in this 20-3 bed wetting.
18. 2005 vs. Indianapolis—Colts 24, Ravens 7
The Colts came to Baltimore for this Sunday night opener. Late in the first half, Paul Maguire proclaimed it “the most exciting 0-0 game [he’d] ever seen.”
How did the Ravens manage to lose a game so badly when they rolled up 401 yards and went 9-for-19 on 3rd/4th down? Yup, they lost the turnover battle 4-0.
Daniel Wilcox’s touchdown with 0:13 remaining broke the shutout.
17. 2003 at Pittsburgh—Steelers 34, Ravens 15
The Ravens opened the Kyle Boller era with a thud in a “contest” the Steelers led 27-0 late in the 3rd quarter. Terrell Suggs, the Ravens’ top pick, began his career as a situational pass rusher and dropped Tommy Maddox for a sack on his 4th NFL snap. Jamal Lewis began his 2,066-yard season with a modest 69 yards on 15 carries.
16. 2002 at Carolina—Panthers 10, Ravens 7
Somehow, we hoped the salary cap purge of 2002 wouldn’t have a significant impact on the team that had dominated football for the previous two seasons. Chris Redman couldn’t be worse than Trent Dilfer or Elvis Grbac. Jamal Lewis was back from an injury that sidelined him for the 2001 season. There were other interior defensive lineman who could replace Sam Adams and Tony Siragusa, right?
It was a very close game statistically and the Ravens had a chance to tie or win on their final drive, but Redman was intercepted by Dan Morgan with 1:19 remaining to seal the deal.
The young Ravens defense, led by rookie Ed Reed, and the first significant playing time from Kelly Gregg, Anthony Weaver, Will Demps, and Gary Baxter would keep the Ravens in the race until the final weekend, but the writing was on the wall from Week 1.
15. 1999 at St Louis—Rams 27, Ravens 10
The Ravens had elevated their play defensively in the closing weeks of 1998 and expended their 1st round pick, 9th overall, on Chris McAlister from Arizona who would eventually play opposite Duane Starks, the 1st round selection from 1998. CMac was used on the outside in nickel and dime situations only to begin the season (because he and Starks certainly weren’t going to get DeRon Jenkins off the field /sarcasm off). Despite McAlister’s 1-handed interception on his 11th NFL snap, the Ravens were no match for MVP Kurt Warner, who started his first NFL game en route to a championship season.
The Water Buffalo, Scott Mitchell started the first two games for the Ravens, which contributed to the failure of this outstanding defensive team make the playoffs.
14. 2015 at Denver—Broncos 19, Ravens 13
The Ravens lost to the eventual Super Bowl champs and for the final time to Peyton Manning despite holding him to 3.4 yards per drop back and no touchdowns. The game was frustrating, because the defense had it very much in hand (13-9) late in the 3rd quarter when Flacco threw a pick-6 to Aqib Talib. Steve Smith later was unable to collect the potential go-ahead touchdown at the goal line (Q4, 0:42).
The result was overshadowed by the loss of Terrell Suggs and the start of an injury-riddled season.
13. 2007 at Cincinnati—Bengals 27, Ravens 20
The Ravens opened on Monday night for the first time in team history following their 13-3 season. These were the days when Ochocinco was a just lesser-known prop comic named Chad Johnson who had previously hidden a cell phone in the goalpost wrapping as a means to…who the hell cares.
Johnson caught a 39-yard touchdown from Carson Palmer and then donned a mocked-up yellow Hall of Fame jacket. Ed Reed briefly gave the Ravens a 20-19 lead on a 63-yard punt return TD, but Kyle Boller threw an end-zone interception to seal the defeat with 1:13 remaining.
12. 1998 vs Pittsburgh—Steelers 20, Ravens 13
Ravens fans in 1998 did not expect their team to beat the Steelers in the first regular season game played at the new downtown building we now know as M&T Bank Stadium. The Ravens trailed 20-3 with 7:00 remaining before they scored 10 unanswered points behind Eric Zeier, who replaced Jim Harbaugh at QB. The comeback fell short, but that place was cool to see for the first time.
11. 2014 vs Cincinnati—Bengals 23, Ravens 16
The Ravens battled back from a 15-0 deficit to take a 16-15 lead on Flacco’s 80-yard TD pass to Steve Smith, who was playing his first game as a Raven. The Bengals responded less than a minute later with a 77-yard TD pass to A.J. Green who beat Chykie Brown down the right sideline. The 2-point conversion closed the scoring although the Ravens drove to the 16-yard line before stalling.
10. 1997 vs Jacksonville—Jaguars 28, Ravens 27
The Ravens played their first and only regular season game in August (8/31) with a new offensive line featuring 2nd-year player Jon Ogden at his new left tackle position. As was typical of the 1996-97 teams, they had the lead late (27-21 midway through Q4) and blew it.
Little remembered is the near-miracle fumble by Natron Means as the Jaguars were running out the clock. The fumble was forced by Kim Herring and set the Ravens up at the Jags 47 with 1:08 to play. Unfortunately, Vinnie Testeverde and the high-powered offense (based on 1996) were unable to advance the ball the 15 or so yards necessary to attempt a FG and surrendered the ball on downs. Had they done so, I’m sure this would be remembered today as one of the great games in early franchise history.
9. 2009 vs. Chiefs—Ravens 38, Chiefs 24
The score was a lie. This game was dominated by the Ravens, who outgained the Chiefs 501-188 and ran 85 offensive plays to their 44. However, a touchdown on a blocked punt and an interception return to the 6-yard line kept the outcome in doubt until the final minutes. Joe Flacco then hit Mark Clayton with the game-winning, 31-yard TD with 2:14 remaining.
8. 2001 vs. Bears—Ravens 17, Bears 6
In an era before the guaranteed Thursday opener, the Bears visited the Ravens as fans were treated to a trophy-passing ceremony before the game. The Ravens’ new QB, Elvis Grbac, had one of the best passing games ever by a Raven and the defense held the Bears to just 2.8 yards per offensive play. Despite the 1-sided statistical outcome, the Ravens did not take the lead until 1:48 was left in the 3rd quarter on a touchdown pass to fullback Sam Gash. Interceptions by Ray Lewis and James Trapp sealed the deal in the 4th quarter.
7. 2010 at New York—Ravens 10, Jets 9
The Ravens played a lightning-delayed, Monday-night opener to christen the new ballpark on the Meadowlands parking lot. The Ravens turned in one of the most dominant defensive efforts in team history, allowing the Jets just 44 plays and six first downs. The Jets committed 14 penalties for 125 yards, including two infractions that extended the game’s only touchdown drive near the end of the first half. It was a beautiful, ugly win.
6. 2012 vs. Cincinnati—Ravens 44, Bengals 13
With the AFC Championship Game loss to the Patriots still stinging, the Ravens opened their championship season with a huge win over the Bengals. Joe Flacco started the season with a 52-yard completion to Torey Smith on the game’s first play from scrimmage and the offense never looked back.
Forgotten in the euphoria was Ed Reed’s last NFL touchdown on a 34-yard interception return which also set the career record for return yards.
5. 2008 vs. Cincinnati—Ravens 17, Bengals 10
“Let’s Go Flac-co” was chanted as the Ravens’ rookie and surprise starter (Troy Smith, illness) led the team to 9-of-17 on 3rd-down conversions and ran for a 38-yard score. Mark Clayton also had a reverse for a 42-yard score (that play hasn’t failed every time) and the defense throttled the Bengals to the tune of eight first downs and 154 total yards.
Only Jonathan Joseph’s 65-yard return of Ray Rice’s fumble kept the game in doubt until the Ravens offense ground out the last 7:15 on a 13-play drive. The John Harbaugh era had begun.
4. 2000 at Pittsburgh—Ravens 16, Steelers 0
The Ravens made the last opener at Three Rivers Stadium one for Steelers fans to forget, as they throttled Pittsburgh. Massive DTs Tony Siragusa (2 tackles) and Sam Adams (2 tackles, 1 PD, 1 FR) were integral to holding the Steelers to 30 yards on 18 carries (1.7 YPC), a theme that would continue throughout the season. Qadry Ismail returned to the scene of his team-record, 258-yard receiving game the previous December to post 102 yards and the game’s only touchdown, a 53-yard completion from Tony Banks.
3. 2006 at Tampa Bay—Ravens 27, Buccaneers 0
Coming off a wretched 6-10 season in Kyle Boller’s 3rd year, the Ravens acquired Steve McNair from the Titans for a 4th-round pick. McNair led the Ravens on a game-opening 80-yard drive on 14 plays that consumed 9:16. The defense then took over with a 60-yard interception return for a TD by Chris McAlister and another 60-yard interception return by rookie Haloti Ngata to set up a FG.
The Gamebook records the temperature as just 87 degrees, but it felt like we were breathing a solid that day. The Buccaneers were coming off an 11-5 season in 2005 and this remains one of the most impressive wins in team history.
2. 2011 vs. Pittsburgh—Ravens 35, Steelers 7
Joe Flacco capped a game-opening 66-yard drive with a 27-yard teardrop to Anquan Boldin to give the Ravens the lead they would never lose, but this game was all about the franchise’s most storied defensive stars. In this one game, the four greatest had by far their best combined performance against the team’s biggest rival. Ray Lewis had a PD, interception, and forced a fumble. Terrell Suggs had three sacks and forced two fumbles. Ed Reed had two interceptions. Haloti Ngata had a PD resulting in Ray’s interception, forced a fumble, and recovered two others.
When your kids or grandkids ask you about those players, make sure you show them this game.
1. 1996 vs. Oakland—Ravens 19, Raiders 14
Oh the hoops:
–We suffered through 12 years without the NFL.
–We suffered through an atrocious Dolphins/Saints preseason game (redundant, I know) to prove our interest in football was still real.
–We financed an expansion effort rigged for Baltimore to fail.
–We endured the flirtations of multiple owners whose only intentions were to use our city for stadium-financing leverage elsewhere.
–We bought PSLs for a stadium that was still two years away.
But almost suddenly, football was back in Baltimore. In front of a wild crowd, the Ravens took the lead for good with a 1-yard run by Ernest Byner with 7:50 remaining for the ultimate comeback win. Ray Lewis was named AFC Defensive Player of the Week in his first professional game with seven tackles and an interception pulled from between Ricky Dudley’s legs in the end zone.