BALTIMORE — Pained expressions flashed across the face of New York Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez as the relentless Baltimore Ravens defense punished him repeatedly.
It was probably equal parts the hurt his body endured and frustration from his frequent miscues.
Victimizing Sanchez with unpredictable blitzes and constant pressure, the Ravens scored three defensive touchdowns to establish a new franchise record during a 34-17 victory Sunday night before 71,247 at M&T Bank Stadium.
It was a performance that rivaled the gold standard of the Ravens’ defensive heyday during the decade Jets coach Rex Ryan spent in Baltimore as a defensive coordinator and defensive line coach.
"He created us, now he had to deal with us," outside linebacker Jarret Johnson said. "It was fun. .. Obviously, he’s upset. Rex is a super-competitive guy."
If it wasn’t dynamic free safety Ed Reed stripping the ball away from Sanchez from behind on the Jets’ first play from scrimmage, it was All-Pro defensive tackle Haloti Ngata drilling the beleaguered quarterback in the back with a crushing blow to force another fumble returned for a touchdown.
"We just pinned our ears back, and tried to get to him as fast as we could," Ngata said. "I think we rattled him, and got him off his mark and we were able to make plays off of him."
And cornerback Lardarius Webb delivered another embarrassing moment for Sanchez as he burst in front of an errant pass intended for wide receiver Santonio Holmes, returning the interception 73 yards for a touchdown.
The Ravens (3-1) won their seventh consecutive game against the Jets, their second in two games against Ryan and are now stand alone atop the AFC North heading into a bye week. Their defense has led the charge with 14 turnovers and four touchdowns through four games.
Sanchez fumbled four times, losing three of them.
"I do sense something special with this defense and with this team," coach John Harbaugh said. "I think there’s a spirit in this team that’s hard to describe and I wish I could put it in words for you.
"I saw it the first day the guys came back. We’ll see where it takes us, but I couldn’t me more proud of this team. You either do or you don’t, and those guys did it tonight."
Instead of the Jets claiming a grudge match to avenge a 10-9 loss to the Ravens a year ago, they were humbled again as Ryan and former Ravens wide receiver Derrick Mason, strong safety Jim Leonhard and linebacker Bart Scott lost in their first regular-season game in Baltimore since leaving the organization.
"I’ve been around football a long time and I’ve never seen anything like that before," Ryan said. "The performance by their defense was spectacular. They were coming after us. That’s that Raven defense. It reminded me of the 2000 and 2006 defenses. We got it handed to us."
Sanchez was limited to 11-of-35 passing for 115 yards, no touchdowns and one interception for a 30.5 passer rating.
To a man, the Ravens said that Sanchez appeared to get rattled.
"He hit the ground pretty quick a few times, and you could tell he was feeling the pressure," Johnson said. "When we see that, we’re going to keep coming."
"Throughout the course of the beating, he got rattled a little bit," linebacker Terrell Suggs said. "Once we hit him a few times, he kind of got uncomfortable."
The Ravens needed all of their defensive prowess with quarterback Joe Flacco almost as erratic as Sanchez.
Flacco completed only 10 of 31 passes for 163 yards, no touchdowns and one interception for a 37.4 passer rating.
Flacco uncorked 12 consecutive incompletions from the beginning of the second quarter until early in the fourth quarter, when he finally hit rookie wide receiver LaQuan Williams for a first down.
He had an interception returned 35 yards for a touchdown by inside linebacker David Harris in the second quarter on a short pass intended for running back Ray Rice. Flacco went two entire quarters without a completion.
It was a troubling game by Flacco one week removed from taking advantage of a suspect St. Louis Rams secondary for three touchdown passes and a career-high 389 yards in a 37-7 rout.
"It wasn’t too pretty, but anytime you get a win in the NFL, it’s a good one especially when you are playing a good team like that," Flacco said. "Our defense really showed up."
The enduring image of Ryan was him cursing at officials after they upheld Johnson’s touchdown in the second quarter following an instant-replay review.
Ngata struck Sanchez in the back after busting through the Jets’ blockers as if they were made of wet paper, popping the football out before the quarterback’s arm started moving forward.
And Johnson scooped up the fumble and returned it 26 yards for the score.
"No, I didn’t feel rattled at all," Sanchez said. "Just needed to get the ball out quicker."
The Ravens held the Jets to nine yards and one first down in the first quarter.
Defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano sent Reed on a blitz in the first quarter, something the former NFL Defensive Player of the Year has done less frequently in recent years due to neck and hip injuries.
Reed timed it perfectly, darting past the line of scrimmage to knock the ball away from Sanchez with inside linebacker Jameel McClain returning it six yards for a touchdown.
The Jets failed to account for Reed on the play, a crucial mistake.
"It was big," Reed said. "We must have caught them off-guard. I knew from watching him on tape that he would pump it and sometimes hold onto it. It was a blessing that I got there in time."
The Jets immediately answered with a 107-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by Joe McKnight where he streaked up the middle past blocked linebacker Albert McClellan and ran away from safety Tom Zbikowski. It’s the longest return in Jets history and the longest play surrendered by the Ravens in franchise history.
Following a 38-yard Billy Cundiff field goal set up by a 52-yard reception by Rice where he lined up in the slot and beat safety Eric Smith, the Ravens scored on their next possession as well.
Rice capped an eight-play drive with a three-yard touchdown run to the left to stake the Ravens to a 17-7 advantage.
After yet another Sanchez fumble, this one a bad snap from rookie center Colin Baxter as he struggled in place of injured Pro Bowl center Nick Mangold, Cundiff hit his first field goal.
The Jets scored one more time in the second quarter on a 40-yard Nick Folk field goal to bring the game to within 10 points at halftime.
However, the Ravens took control for good in the third quarter when Webb ran in front of Holmes to pick off Sanchez for the touchdown.
The Ravens contained Holmes, who had typically haunted the Ravens with 35 career receptions for 641 yards and eight touchdowns during his time with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
That included scores in seven consecutive games against them until Sunday night after not playing against the Ravens a year ago while serving a four-game suspension for violating the NFL substance-abuse policy.
The Ravens limited Holmes to three receptions for 33 yards.
The Ravens limited the Jets to 150 yards of total offense and seven first downs as New York rushed for just 38 yards on 19 carries for a two-yard average, the lowest since Ryan took over the AFC East squad.
It was the ninth-fewest yards allowed in franchise history, the lowest amount of yards any of Ryan’s teams have gained.
"It was old school," middle linebacker Ray Lewis said. "We started out the year kind of hot like this, got back on the track last week against St. Louis and this week we kind of came out and carried it over. It was a pretty good all-around win."
Like vintage editions of the Ravens, the defense and the running game led the way.
After halftime, the Jets generated only two first downs.
"It was an unbelievable game," Harbaugh said. "The best defensive performance I’ve ever seen, and the most amazing defensive performance I thought I’d seen was the Pittsburgh game with the seven turnovers against that offense, but this topped it. That’s pretty impressive. It was a team victory, but our defense carried us."