November 23, 2010

2003: Ravens Overcome 17-Point Deficit to Force OT & Beat Seahawks

The Baltimore Ravens were 5-5 and had lost their previous two games as they prepared to host the Seattle Seahawks at M & T Bank Stadium on November 23, 2003. Moreover, while Head Coach Brian Billick’s rebuilding team still had an outstanding defense, the offense was being directed for just the second time by QB Anthony Wright (pictured at right), in place of the injured Kyle Boller. Wright had been with the Cowboys for two seasons and had already gained a reputation as a career backup, at best, with limited skills. While RB Jamal Lewis was a capable runner, the passing game was suspect.

Seattle was leading the NFC West with a 7-3 record under Head Coach Mike Holmgren, who was steadily improving the club. The offense, with Matt Hasselbeck in his first full season as the starting quarterback and star RB Shaun Alexander, was becoming more explosive. But while they were a perfect 6-0 at home, the Seahawks were a disconcerting 1-3 on the road.

It appeared that the game would be a low-scoring affair after a scoreless first quarter. Josh Brown put Seattle on the board first with a 45-yard field goal three minutes into the second quarter, and the Ravens matched it late in the period with a 21-yard Matt Stover kick. But in the final minute of the half, the Seahawks scored twice. First, they capped a 13-play, 80-yard drive with Hasselbeck tossing a two-yard touchdown pass to WR Darrell Jackson. Then, as the Ravens were attempting to run out the clock, the Seahawks recovered a fumble by RB Chester Taylor at the Baltimore 10 yard line and Hasselbeck threw a quick 10-yard TD pass to WR Bobby Engram with a second left on the clock. In short order, Seattle had built a 17-3 halftime lead.

The Ravens came right back in their first possession of the third quarter, with a six-play drive highlighted by pass from Wright to WR Travis Taylor that covered 43 yards. Wright then tossed a 13-yard touchdown pass to WR Marcus Robinson that cut Seattle’s margin to 17-10.

The reduced margin didn’t last long as, on the third play of the next possession, Hasselbeck connected with WR Koren Robinson for a 38-yard touchdown. Seattle added to its lead following a 24-yard punt by Baltimore’s Dave Zastudil that provided good field position and set up a 46-yard field goal by Brown to make the tally 27-10.

Once again the Ravens narrowed the margin as Wright completed a five-play drive with a 50-yard TD pass to Marcus Robinson. And once again the Seahawks came right back with a score as Hasselbeck immediately completed an 80-yard touchdown pass to Jackson. There was still time left in the eventful third quarter, and Wright found Marcus Robinson for a third touchdown pass that covered 25 yards. The period ended with Seattle up by 10 at 34-24.

Early in the fourth quarter, it seemed as though the Seahawks had finally put the game away when Hasselbeck tossed his fifth touchdown pass, of five yards to Engram, for a renewed 17-point lead of 41-24. But with 6:41 remaining on the clock, Baltimore safety Ed Reed blocked a Jeff Feagles punt and returned it 16 yards for a touchdown. The Ravens got the ball back when LB Ray Lewis recovered a fumble at his own 29 and Wright led the team on a 71-yard drive through a soft Seattle defense that ended with a nine-yard scoring pass to Marcus Robinson.

The Seahawks still led by 41-38 with 1:12 remaining, and it appeared that they would prevail when they recovered an attempted onside kickoff by the Ravens. But in a pivotal play at the Baltimore 33 with 39 seconds left, Hasselbeck’s quarterback sneak was stopped for no gain on fourth-and-one, and the Ravens got the ball back. A 44-yard pass interference penalty on Seattle CB Marcus Trufant set up the game-tying 40-yard field goal by Stover, and the teams headed into overtime.

The Seahawks had the initial possession in the extra period but were forced to punt. The Ravens responded with a 55-yard drive, with the key play being a 19-yard pass from Wright to Marcus Robinson in a third-and-15 situation. Stover booted a 42-yard field goal, and Baltimore came away with an improbable 44-41 win.

Reflecting the closeness of the final score, each team gained 426 yards of total offense. The Ravens had the edge in rushing yards (150 to 133) while Seattle had the most net passing yards (293 to 276). Both teams sacked the opposing quarterback six times apiece. The Seahawks gave up three turnovers, as opposed to two by Baltimore, while the Ravens were penalized 14 times for 112 yards, compared to Seattle being flagged six times for 89 yards.

Anthony Wright had a career game, completing 20 of 37 passes for 319 yards with four touchdowns – all to Marcus Robinson – and none intercepted. Robinson, for his part, caught 7 passes for 131 yards and the four TDs. Jamal Lewis gained 117 rushing yards on 26 carries.

In defeat, Matt Hasselbeck (pictured at left) was successful on 23 of 41 passes for 333 yards and five touchdowns with no interceptions. Darrell Jackson was the top receiver with 7 catches for 146 yards and two of the TDs. Shaun Alexander ran for 72 yards on 22 attempts.

Said Wright afterward, “It was looking very, very dim. But we just let it all hang out. Everything came together. It's unbelievable, for us to be down as much as were and to come back.” He was then off to the hospital where his wife was expecting delivery of a baby girl.

“We let them back in the football game,” said a disappointed Mike Holmgren. “It was just a bizarre, bizarre ending.”

Referring to the failed quarterback sneak that could have sealed the game in regulation, Matt Hasselbeck said, “We just needed one more play. One more play and we could have won the game. We should have won the game, and we just didn't make it.”

The Ravens built upon the stunning comeback victory to win five of their last six games and finish first in the AFC North with a 10-6 record. They lost to Tennessee in the Wild Card playoff game. The loss to Baltimore knocked Seattle out of first place, but the Seahawks also completed the regular season at 10-6 to end up second in the NFC West. Qualifying for the postseason as a wild card, they too lost in the first round, in overtime to the Green Bay Packers, Holmgren’s previous coaching stop.

Anthony Wright’s performance was easily the greatest of his career. He ended up throwing for 1199 yards with 9 touchdowns and 8 interceptions in ’03, and was 5-2 as the starting quarterback. He never again came close to passing for 300 yards in a game, or tossing more than two TD passes in a contest, and missed the 2004 season altogether due to injury.

Jamal Lewis topped the NFL with 2066 yards rushing on 387 carries (5.3 avg.) with 14 touchdowns and remained the key player on offense.

Marcus Robinson’s four touchdown receptions represented two thirds of his total output of six for the year. He caught 31 passes for 451 yards (14.5 avg.) all told.

Matt Hasselbeck, who had a big passing day in defeat, ranked fourth in the NFL in passing yards (3841) and tied for third in TD passes (26). His 7.5 yards per attempt ranked fourth (tied with Peyton Manning of the Colts) and 12.3 yards per completion placed second. He was selected for the Pro Bowl.