TAMPA, Fla. — For a while it looked like it might be a game, but in the end it turned into a blowout.
The defense of the Baltimore Ravens lived up to the hype Sunday, holding the New York Giants out of the end zone and scoring seven points of its own on the way to a 34-7 victory in Super Bowl XXXV before a crowd of 71,921 at Raymond James Stadium.
The Ravens, who set an NFL record for fewest points allowed (165) in a 16-game season, used stellar play by their down linemen, linebackers and defensive backs to consistently stop the Giants and force five turnovers, while Baltimore’s efficient offense didn’t turn the ball over at all in a crisp performance.
Ray Lewis, who was indicted on murder charges following a double homicide at a party after last year’s Super Bowl in Atlanta, completed a storybook return by earning the Most Valuable Player award with a seven-tackle performance.
“We came out tonight and showed everybody why we were the best defense in the NFL this season,” Lewis said. “We may be the best defense ever in this league.
“It was incredible to see the way we came out and played as a team. This defense has been doing this all year and never got the credit.”
New York quarterback Kerry Collins tied a dubious Super Bowl record by throwing four interceptions in a horrible outing. Collins was fortunate, as his tally could have been higher if not for a few fortuitous bounces of the ball.
Trent Dilfer was solid, if unspectacular, at quarterback for the Ravens, throwing for 153 yards and one touchdown while completing 12 of 25 attempts, and rookie running back Jamal Lewis ran for 102 yards and one TD on 27 carries.
Dilfer’s triumph was noteworthy, as he returned to win the Super Bowl in a city where the hometown Buccaneers had released him only a year earlier.
“It was great to come back to Tampa and win the Super Bowl,” Dilfer said. “This was about helping my team win the game, not anything else. We showed the heart, the will and the poise tonight. Our team decided as a group that winning was more important than any individual achievements.”
The most exciting moment of the entire contest came late in the third quarter, when Ron Dixon of the Giants (97 yards) and Jermaine Lewis (84 yards) of the Ravens returned back-to-back kickoffs for touchdowns for the first time in Super Bowl history.
“We knew the key was to not turn the ball over,” Baltimore head coach Brian Billick said after the game. “This team will hit you and keep coming at you, and that has made the difference for us this year.”
Outside of that, it was a pretty one-sided contest, despite the fact the Giants trailed only 10-0 with under four minutes to play in the third quarter and had their chances to be competitive.
The teams set another Super Bowl mark by combining for 21 punts as both sides struggled to muster much from their offenses.
New York defensive tackle Michael Strahan analyzed the game very succinctly.
“It was going to be a field position battle, it was going to be a turnover battle, and we lost both of those. If you do that against a team like that, it’s not going to help your chances.”
After the Ravens were penalized for encroachment before the first play from scrimmage, Collins attempted a short pass over the middle on first and 5 that was nearly intercepted by strong safety Kim Herring. Tiki Barber then was held to no gain on a play off right tackle, before Collins tried to go long and threw incomplete, and New York was forced to punt.
The Ravens took possession of the ball on their own 37 and attempted three straight passes on their first drive. Dilfer hit Jamal Lewis for a 4-yard gain, then threw two incompletions, forcing Baltimore to punt.
Rob Burnett sacked Collins at the New York 8-yard line on the first play following Kyle Richardson’s punt, and Barber was only able to gain 1 yard on second down, forcing the Giants into third and long. When Collins was unable to find anybody open, he scrambled for a gain of 5 yards. Brad Maynard then came on for his second punt of the game.
Baltimore nearly scored on its next possession, when Dilfer went up top and threw long to wide receiver Patrick Johnson, who had beaten Jason Sehorn on a fly pattern on third and 5. However, Johnson was unable to haul in Dilfer’s rainbow in the end zone, forcing yet another punt.
Richardson’s second punt was a beauty, as Barber let the ball go over his head near the 10 and could only watch as the Ravens downed the ball on New York’s 1-yard line.
The Giants were called for a false start on the first play of their third drive — moving the ball back to the half-yard line — and Collins was nearly intercepted again throwing out of his own end zone. But on second down, New York finally broke through when Collins hit Ike Hilliard for a 13-yard gain and a first down.
New York could not move the ball for another first down and had to punt.
A long return by Jermaine Lewis was minimized by a penalty, with the Ravens taking possession on the New York 41-yard line. After Jamal Lewis ran the ball for 3 yards, Dilfer found Brandon Stokley open behind Sehorn and the wideout hauled in Dilfer’s pass and fought his way into the end zone for a 38-yard touchdown with 6:48 left in the first quarter.
Matt Stover converted the extra point to give the Ravens a 7-0 lead.
The Giants took the ensuing kickoff and again were unable to move the ball, but nearly got a break when Maynard punted and Jermaine Lewis fumbled, causing a wild scramble for the ball that Baltimore was fortunate to recover at its own 28.
The teams exchanged punts again and the first quarter ended with both teams having recorded just one first down apiece while punting a total of 10 times.
The Ravens opened the second quarter by converting on third and 6 as Dilfer hit Johnson for a 10-yard gain. But the Baltimore drive stalled and Strahan forced a punt after sacking Dilfer on third and 7.
New York took over on its own 40 and benefited from two penalties on the Ravens to push the ball to midfield. On first down, the Giants tried a funky flea flicker play, with Hilliard taking what looked like a reverse, then chucking the ball back to Collins, who threw incomplete downfield.
The crowd barely had a chance to recover from that play before the Ravens intercepted the ball on the next play, after Lewis tipped a Collins pass and the ball was picked off by Jamie Sharper, who returned it to the Baltimore 47.
On the next play from scrimmage, Dilfer attempted to throw a pass to the left flat, but saw the ball picked off by linebacker Jessie Armstead and returned for what looked like a touchdown, but a holding call on tackle Keith Hamilton negated the play.
Following Baltimore’s next punt, Collins threaded the needle to Amani Toomer for a 19-yard gain and a first down and the Giants picked up another first down on a penalty. Hilliard then hauled in a 10-yard catch to make it three in a row and New York looked like it might be in business.
But the Ravens’ defense stiffened and on came Maynard for another punt.
With Baltimore taking over deep in its own territory, the Giants had another opportunity to take over with good field position, but on third and 2 Dilfer found Qadry Ismail open up the left sideline and laid the ball in perfectly. Ismail romped for a 44-yard gain that was only stopped from being a touchdown by a shoestring tackle by Dave Thomas.
The Giants held and Stover then came on to convert a 47-yard field goal to put the Ravens up 10-0 with 1:41 left in the first half.
New York marched down the field on its final drive of the half, and after Barber broke free for a 27-yard gain to move the ball to the Baltimore 29 with 1:04 left on the clock, the Giants looked poised to come away with at least a field goal. But Collins was picked off trying to throw into double coverage by cornerback Chris McAlister at the 1-yard line.
Dilfer was 7-for-17 for 108 yards in the first half, while Collins went 8-for-21 for 74 yards.
Barber had 44 yards rushing on 7 carries at the half, while Jamal Lewis, who was the only player to run the ball for Baltimore in the opening 30 minutes, recorded 51 yards on 13 carries.
The second half was more of the same, as Herring intercepted a pass from Collins and returned it to the New York 41 with just under nine minutes left in the third quarter as the Giants looked like they might be running out of steam.
With Tony Banks taking over at quarterback for Dilfer, who injured his left wrist on a sack on the first drive of the second half, the Ravens gained one first down by Jamal Lewis on the ground, before Stover came on to try a 41-yard field goal with just over six minutes remaining. Stover’s kick sailed wide left and the Giants retained a glimmer of hope.
Dilfer returned to the lineup after missing just one series while going to the locker room to have his wrist X-rayed.
The Ravens looked to have extinguished any chance New York had on the next series. Collins tried to throw a slant and cornerback Duane Starks stepped in, picked the ball off and romped 49 yards for a touchdown with 3:58 left in the third quarter. Stover’s extra point made it 17-0 for the Ravens and it looked like curtains for the Giants.
“I gave him (Collins) a few passes early to bait him into throwing again,” Starks admitted. “I played soft and I took my chance when I knew I had a great shot to do it.”
Dixon breathed a bit of of life into New York’s cause when he returned the ensuing kickoff 97 yards for a touchdown. Brad Daluiso converted the extra point to cut the deficit to 17-7. Jermaine Lewis then made it academic by returning the next kickoff 84 yards for the touchdown that clinched it for the Ravens.
Baltimore rounded out the scoring on a 3-yard TD run by Jamal Lewis with 8:45 left in the fourth quarter and a 34-yard field goal by Stover with 5:28 remaining.
Collins admitted he played far from his best.
“This is the most disappointing loss I’ve ever been involved with. I’m disappointed in the way I played. It wasn’t a lack of effort or preparation, I just didn’t play the way I wanted to.”
Tight end Shannon Sharpe said the philosophy of the Ravens was simple all season.
“Our goal was to score at least 10 points and then we knew the defense would take care of the rest.”