September 10, 2011

2000: Banks & Ravens Overcome Smith & Jaguars in Thriller

Since becoming the Baltimore Ravens in 1996, the club playing host at PSINet Stadium on September 10, 2000 had not beaten the visiting Jacksonville Jaguars, a 1995 expansion team, in eight tries. The Ravens, 8-8 in 1999 and under second-year Head Coach Brian Billick, boasted a strong defense that was led by LB Ray Lewis, and had shut out the Steelers in the opening game the previous week by a 16-0 score.

There were still many questions regarding the offense, however, beginning with the team’s quarterback, veteran Tony Banks (pictured above). Following three disappointing years with the Rams, Banks had joined the Ravens as a backup in ’99 and was 6-4 as the starter after taking over for Scott Mitchell and Stoney Case. Coming off a good year and with the starting job his going into the 2000 season, there were questions about whether he had overcome past attitude issues and would elevate his game. Other uncertainties pertained to running back, since rookie starter Jamal Lewis had encountered injury problems in college, and the receivers. While veteran newcomer TE Shannon Sharpe was an established star in Denver, the rest of the receiving corps was undistinguished.

The Jaguars, under Head Coach Tom Coughlin, had developed rapidly into a contender and were coming off of a 14-2 record in ’99. QB Mark Brunell was solid when healthy, and had outstanding wide receivers to throw to in Jimmy Smith and Keenan McCardell. RB Fred Taylor missed six games, but was a rising talent (he also was out with an injury for the game against the Ravens). The defense allowed the fewest yards in the league. Clearly a team to be reckoned with, they had easily beaten the Browns in their opening game.

It appeared that Baltimore’s bad luck against the Jaguars would continue as Jacksonville dominated the first quarter. On their first possession, the Jaguars went 48 yards in seven plays, highlighted by two Brunell passes to Smith of 26 and 9 yards. Mike Hollis scored the first points of the game with a 36-yard field goal.

Following a poor 20-yard punt by Kyle Richardson that gave Jacksonville excellent field position at the Baltimore 43, the Jaguars were able to score a touchdown on a drive that initially appeared to be stifled by the Ravens defense. However, an illegal use of hands penalty on CB Chris McAlister on a third-and-14 play gave Jacksonville an automatic first down and Brunell tossed a 45-yard pass to Smith for the score and a 10-0 lead.

Later in the opening period, the Jaguars went 77 yards in five plays, again helped along by a penalty on McAlister - this time for pass interference - that advanced the ball 19 yards on a third-and-nine play to the Baltimore 43. Brunell again hit Smith on a long pass play for a TD that covered 43 yards. It was 17-0 in favor of the visitors after one quarter of play.

Early in the second quarter, the Ravens finally got on the board after recovering a fumble at the Jacksonville 14. Banks immediately fired a touchdown pass to rookie WR Travis Taylor and, with the successful PAT, the score was narrowed to 17-7. However, the Jaguars put together long drives of 14 and 8 plays that led to Mike Hollis field goals of 45 and 48 yards and Jacksonville held a seemingly-comfortable 23-7 margin at the half. They had outgained the Ravens by 257 to 97 yards thus far.

Baltimore struck quickly in the third quarter, however. Banks immediately threw to Taylor for a 40-yard gain to the Jacksonville 28, and three plays later it was Banks-to-Taylor once again for a 23-yard touchdown. The Ravens went for a two-point conversion and were successful as TE Ben Coates caught a pass from Banks. The score was now 23-15 at just 1:29 into the second half.

The Jaguars went three-and-out on their next possession, but got a break when Banks threw long for Taylor and, the ball bouncing off the receiver’s hands, safety Rayna Stewart intercepted and returned it 24 yards to the Baltimore 41. Jacksonville advanced to the 16 yard line before the drive stalled and the Jaguars settled for a fourth Hollis field goal, this time from 34 yards.

In response, the Ravens put together a 76-yard drive of 10 plays that ran almost six minutes off the clock. RB Priest Holmes accounted for the two biggest gains, on runs of 17 and 20 yards, the latter carry giving Baltimore first-and-goal at the eight yard line. Banks tossed a five-yard TD pass to RB Obafemi Ayanbadejo and, following Matt Stover’s extra point, Jacksonville’s lead was narrowed to four points at 26-22.

Heading into the fourth quarter, and with just over 10 minutes remaining on the clock, Baltimore LB Jamie Sharper made a huge defensive play when he forced Jaguars RB Stacey Mack to fumble and recovered at the Jacksonville 12. Banks threw to WR Jermaine Lewis for the 12-yard touchdown two plays later, and the Ravens took the lead at 29-26.

Jacksonville’s next possession ended when Brunell was intercepted by DB Kim Herring, who ran 30 yards to the Jaguars’ 35 yard line. Banks threw to Holmes for nine yards, but the Jaguars defense stiffened and the Ravens ended up with a 44-yard Stover field goal to extend their margin to 32-26.

While the second half momentum had been almost totally in Baltimore’s favor, the visitors weren’t done yet and drove 51 yards in nine plays that culminated in a 48-yard field goal by Hollis, his fifth with just under five minutes remaining to play. It was now a three-point game at 32-29 and the Ravens went three-and-out on their ensuing possession. Brunell completed a pass to WR Keenan McCardell for a 17-yard gain and then threw to Smith for four yards to the Baltimore 40 at the two minute warning.

Two plays later, the Jaguars regained the lead when Brunell’s pass to McCardell was tipped by the wide receiver and grabbed by Smith, who broke a tackle by McAlister and ran into the end zone to complete a 17-yard scoring play. The extra point made it 36-32, and it seemed as though Jacksonville would yet come out on top.

The Ravens took over at their 25 and Banks tossed passes to WR Billy Davis for 19 and 15 yards and Ayanbadejo for 12 before firing a throw down the middle of the field to Shannon Sharpe that the tight end gathered in for a 29-yard touchdown with 41 seconds to go. It proved decisive as Baltimore came away with the 39-36 win.

The Jaguars outgained the Ravens (421 yards to 331) and had more first downs (22 to 17). However, they also turned the ball over four times, while Baltimore did so twice.

Tony Banks completed 23 of 40 passes for 262 yards with a career-high five touchdowns against two interceptions. Obafemi Ayanbadejo caught 7 passes for 53 yards and a TD, while Travis Taylor, subbing for the injured Qadry Ismail, gained 80 yards on his four receptions that included two for scores. Priest Holmes rushed for 54 yards on 10 carries to lead the club, and also caught four passes for 18 more.

For Jacksonville, Mark Brunell was successful on 28 of 50 throws for 386 yards and three TDs with two picked off. Jimmy Smith burned the Ravens defense with 15 catches for 291 yards and three touchdowns. Stacey Mack, playing in place of the injured Fred Taylor, was the leading rusher with 36 yards on 11 attempts.

“You have to give credit to Tony Banks and their offense,” said Brunell afterward. “They went right down the field and made the plays they had to make. They were very impressive today. We scored some points, but it wasn't enough.”

“I'm very disappointed in our second half,” added Coach Coughlin. “They beat us in man coverage and they beat us in zone coverage. The fact that the Ravens were able to move the ball when everyone knew they had to have a touchdown on the last drive was pretty frustrating.”

Baltimore went on to a 12-4 record and qualified for a wild card spot by winning its last seven games. However, when the offensive performance dipped after the good start, Banks lost his starting job to veteran backup Trent Dilfer, who held the job the rest of the way. With the defense utterly dominating opponents (the 36 points given up to the Jaguars was by far the most surrendered during the season), the Ravens won all four playoff games, including the Super Bowl over the Giants. They gave up a total of 23 points in the four postseason games.

Jacksonville won the week after the tough loss to the Ravens, but proceeded to lose five straight games on the way to a disappointing 7-9 finish that put them in fourth place in the AFC Central. Jimmy Smith (pictured below) caught 91 passes for 1213 yards and eight touchdowns and was selected to the Pro Bowl for the fourth straight year.

Tony Banks moved on to the Washington Redskins in 2001, where he was the starting quarterback for an 8-8 team with a ball-control offense. He ended up as a backup for the expansion Houston Texans from 2003 to ’05, never quite living up to his potential. His opening game performance for the Ravens against Jacksonville was a major highlight of an inconsistent career.