It was week 2 of the 2000 season when the AFC Central division rivals clashed again. The Jacksonville Jaguars had owned the Baltimore Ravens in the short history of both franchise’s existence. The Jaguars, having been established since 1995, had won all eight games that they’d ever played against the newly branded Ravens (the Browns from 1996 onwards). Despite being a brand new franchise, from their second ever season the Jaguars had been one of the better teams in the AFC, having made it to the Championship Game twice in four years and been the top seed in 1999 with a 14-2 record.
The Ravens on the other hand had struggled mightily since their controversial move from Cleveland, having had their best season in their new home in the previous year at 8-8. There were signs that the improvement could continue but no one was tipping them in September for what was about to become that season. The shootout in at ‘PSInet Stadium’ in Maryland that day would be the pivot point of both franchise’s fortunes for that season and the coming years.
The first half looked like all the previous meetings between the two teams. Jaguars quarterback Mark Brunell found the imperious Jimmy Smith down the sideline for two 40+ yard bombs in the first quarter with second year cornerback Duane Starks struggling to contain the Pro Bowl receiver. The Jaguars opened up 17-0 lead by the end of the opening stanza.
Of course it was the soon to be historic Ravens defense that would get Baltimore back into the game. Rob Burnett stripped running back Chris Harris, the injured Fred Taylor’s understudy, and Starks recovered. On the very next play Ravens quarterback Tony Banks found Travis Taylor and some back Jaguars tackling allowed him to escape into the endzone. Cue a very unhappy Tom Coughlin waving his arms around in fury.
The Jaguars would regain the momentum and lead into half time 23-7. The Ravens were stuffing the Jaguars run attack with Sam Adams, Tony Siragusa and Ray Lewis but couldn’t get any momentum on offense. As a side-note the two left tackles in this game were Jonathan Ogden and Tony Boselli. Doesn’t it underline the lack of stellar offensive linemen today that it’s a struggle to remember a game recently that featured such marquee left tackles as this one?
The second half would turn it all around. Banks’ immediate 23 yard strike to Travis Taylor cut the lead. A Banks interception led to a Jaguars field goal before the Ravens would score 17 unanswered points. The running of Priest Holmes and Jamal Lewis (the Ravens had three Lewis’ on this team – the other punt returner Jermaine) set up the brilliantly named Obafemi Ayanbadejo for a five yard pass.
As would be a feature of the entire season, the Ravens defense stepped up again with another forced fumble recovery this time by linebacker Jamie Sharper. With a short field Banks hit Jermaine Lewis for the go ahead touchdown. The Ravens were by now stifling the Jaguars offense and after another forced three and out the Ravens added a field goal 26-32. The Jaguars would close the lead with a field goal of their own to set up a grandstand finish.
With 2:42 left in regulation the Jaguars took the ball at their own 39 yard line. Three plays later they were facing 3rd down and 6 at the Ravens 40 with Brunell having scrambled out of bounds for little gain on 2nd down. Ravens defensive coordinator sends a double corner blitz on 3rd down, and Brunell waits until the last moment to release the ball downfield in hope more than anything. It’s a wobbler and is aimed for Keenan McCardell at the 20 yard line but it’s too high. McCardell can only tip the ball up in the air but as it flies over him it lands in the hands of Jimmy Smith. Smith shakes off McAllister and runs the 15 yards alone into the endzone. 36-32 Jaguars. Maryland silent. Could the Ravens ever beat the Jaguars?
There was still 1:42 left in the game. From their own 30, Tony Banks drove the Ravens to the Jaguars 29 yard line. It was 2nd and 10 with 42 seconds on the clock, the Jaguars were defending expecting a pass near the sticks on the sideline. Banks took the snap in shotgun as Shannon Sharpe ran a skinny post straight down the middle of the field. Banks threw it perfectly over the middle linebacker, in between the closing safeties at the goal line. Touchdown Ravens 39-36. And the hoodoo that the Jags had over the Ravens was over. Banks finished with 5 touchdowns for 262 yards. Brunell 386 yards and 3 touchdowns in a losing effort.
The Jaguars would go on to have their first losing season at 7-9 since their first ever year of existence. The Ravens, despite losing the next week at Miami, would go 12-4 and secure a wildcard spot in their first ever postseason appearance. Their defense would give up only 23 points on their postseason run to win the Super Bowl. And for Banks, the Jaguars game would be his best day in the sun. The offense would struggle for most of the year and he was replaced by veteran Trent Dilfer after the offense failed to score a touchdown for four consecutive games halfway through the schedule.
It’s strange to think now that the Jaguars and Ravens had, for a short time, a genuine rivalry. Since that game and division realignment, the Ravens have been perennial contenders in the AFC and the Jaguars, save for a couple of seasons, have found themselves struggling to get back to the success of their early years.
Photo copyright: Baltimore Sun