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Looking back upon the 2006 season, it is difficult to gauge and rank the many meaningful plays that took place for the Baltimore Ravens. Without question it has been a memorable season for so many reasons aside from the simple fact that it represents the teamâ€™s best regular season performance during the Ravens 11 year history. The teamâ€™s performance has been a revelation, especially if one thinks back to how poorly the 2005 team performed exactly one year ago.
Here is a rundown of the some of the key plays that helped propel the Ravens into the playoffs:
12) Big-play Thomas (versus the Pittsburgh Steelers at M&T Bank Stadium): The only touchdown scoring threat by the Steelers was snuffed out in the late stages of the third quarter. As only the Ravensâ€™ defense can, the unit not only prevented a Pittsburgh score by forcing a key fumble on Ben Roethlisberger, but then went on to take the ball and return it for a score going the other way. Nickel back Corey Ivy came clean on a blitz out of the slot, stripped the ball loose from Roethlisberger, and then Adalius Thomas picked up the loose ball to score a backbreaking touchdown. Thomasâ€™ touchdown let the air out of a game and series dominated by the Ravens.
11) Sams to the Rescue (versus the Atlanta Falcons at M&T Bank Stadium): Although return specialist B.J. Sams was unable to find the end zone against the Falcons, he helped setup the Ravensâ€™ three offensive touchdowns. Sams returned six kicks for 212 yards. Sams had three key returns, including an electric punt return during the fourth quarter, which led to a Jamal Lewis touchdown run. Without Samsâ€™ titanic effort, the Ravensâ€™ offense would have been sunk.
10) Mac Draw (versus the New Orleans Saints at the Superdome): On a drive that followed a Reggie Bush fumble, the Ravens scored their first touchdown of the season in the post-Jim Fassel era. McNair led the way on a five-yard touchdown run up the middle, out of an empty formation. This draw play called by new offensive coordinator Brian Billick, was pure genius. Instead of running out of a tight formation inside of the red zone, the Ravens spread the field, to give the Saintsâ€™ defense a new look to account for. The Saints were caught off guard the entire game by the Ravensâ€™ use of spread sets and quick passes. This was a sign of things to come from a Ravens offense led by Billick.
9) The Defensive Handoff (versus the Cincinnati Bengals at M&T Bank Stadium): Although the Ravens scored a number of defensive touchdowns during the season, this one was probably the most memorable, especially considering that it came against the quarterback/receiver combination of Carson Palmer and Chad Johnson. The pass, which floated too high out of Johnsonâ€™s grasp, ended up in cornerback Samari Rolleâ€™s hands. Rolle ran for 24 yards before handing the ball off to Ed Reed just prior to being tackled. Reed then went in for the score near the right sideline. Before the exchange between Rolle and Reed took place, Johnson not only short-armed Palmerâ€™s overthrown attempt, but Reed, following the miscue, subsequently planted him to the ground.
8) Double Move (versus the Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium): Backed up against their own end zone in a critical point in the game, Steve McNair lofted a deep pass to Mark Clayton, who was streaking wide open towards the end zone. The touchdown, scored in the third quarter of a defensive struggle, took the life out of Kansas Cityâ€™s defense and its raucous home crowd. Clayton was able to break open after faking a hitch route to draw the defensive backs in, only to run past them up the field. McNair delivered the pass to Clayton only after moving out of a collapsing pocket, and receiving help from Jamal Lewis on a key block.
7) McNair to Mason Connection in Nashville (versus the Tennessee Titans at LP Field): The duo went to work on another late-game touchdown strike. Except this time, Mason and McNair were wearing Ravens uniforms. McNair threw a 12-yard pass to a wide-open Mason in the back of the end zone to give the Ravens a 27-26 lead. That was Air McNairâ€™s third touchdown throw of the day, in a performance that was his best of the season.
6) The Hit of the Year (versus the Pittsburgh Steelers at M&T Bank Stadium): As if Ben Roethlisberger wasnâ€™t having a bad enough day… Before half-time, linebacker Bart Scott delivered a haymaker shot against the Steelers quarterback on a hit coming unblocked from the right side. Roethlisberger was hit so hard on the play that he needed to leave the field. The sack, which is arguably the most ferocious hit in Ravensâ€™ history, was a reflection of the game itself, which was a physical pounding of the defending Super Bowl champions.
5) Securing the Bye (versus the Buffalo Bills at M&T Bank Stadium): Appropriately, the Ravensâ€™ defense came to the rescue when the team needed a lift. Near the end of the third quarter, Chris McAlister jumped in front of receiver Peerless Price, took the ball away and jogged the other way to score the Ravensâ€™ only touchdown of the day. The play was monumental in a game that seemed to be in doubt as the fourth quarter approached. With McAlisterâ€™s interception return, the Ravens extended their lead to 16-7, and were eventually able to clinch a much sought after bye week in the last game of the season.
4) The Hand of God (versus the Tennessee Titans at LP Field): In one of the strangest games of the season, the Ravens were able to escape with a victory against the young Titans, thanks to a timely blocked kick by Trevor Pryce. Pryce busted through Tennesseeâ€™s line, and got his long arm up to deflect kicker Rod Boronasâ€™ game-winning field goal attempt to secure an important road victory. The game was highlighted by big plays and mistakes by both offenses and defenses, in the Ravensâ€™ biggest comeback victory in team history.
3) Stover Top Oven (versus the Cleveland Browns at Browns Stadium): McNairâ€™s late game heroics started against the Browns in the third week of the season. He led the Ravens on a game-winning drive with nearly three minutes to go in the contest, by completing 6 of 9 passes for 52 yards. Matt Stover then had the opportunity to convert what was possibly his most difficult field goal attempt in his career to bury the Browns. Stover stayed clutch, nailing a long 52-yard field goal strike to give the Ravens a key road victory against their rivals.
2) The Touchdown Dive (versus the San Diego Chargers at M&T Bank Stadium): The culmination of a game-winning touchdown drive in the final three minutes of the game resulted in Steve McNair hooking up with tight-end Todd Heap, on a 10-yard score with 34 seconds to go. After catching a high pass near the goal line, Heap broke through a kill shot tackle attempt by Shawn Merriman, and crossed the plane by diving into the end zone. Heapâ€™s touchdown lifted the Ravens past the Chargers in a battle between two undefeated teams. The play also ended what is undoubtedly one of the best games played in M&T Bank Stadium.
1) Toss out the old Ravens (versus the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Raymond James Stadium): a 14 play, 80 yard drive which took over nine minutes off the clock was capped off by a 4-yard run by Jamal Lewis off the left side. The drive, which was the first offensive possession by the Baltimore Ravens for the 2006 season, featured the unit at its finest. Lewis controlled tempo on the ground, while Steve McNair methodically dinked and dunked passes to Derrick Mason against the much-touted Tampa Bay defense. Not only did the touchdown drive spark a key win on the road to snap an 11-game road losing streak, but it gave notice that this was a much different Baltimore Ravens team than the one that took the field in 2005.
Photos by Sabina Moran
How might you rank the Ravens’ most significant plays of the season. Let us know: [email protected].