The 2000 Ravens entered their fifth season in Baltimore. The Ravens from the ashes of a 12 year absence in Baltimore after Robert Irsay moved the Colts overnight in 1983. Cleveland owner Art Modell pulled his own Irsay in 1996 by moving the Browns to Baltimore, and the Ravens nickname was chosen to honor the literary history of Edgar Allen Poe, beating out the Marauders (a military bomber…) and the Americans (Texans route). During their first few years, the Ravens rebuilt the struggling Browns franchise in their new Ravens Stadium, striking goal with their draft picks. Ray Lewis and Jonathan Ogden (1996), Peter Boulware and Jamie Sharper (1997), and Chris McAllister (1999). They acquired Seahawks edge rusher Michael McCrary and Colts big man Tony Siragusa in 1997, as well as Steelers legend Rod Woodson in 1998. Defense, defense, and more defense.
The Ravens entered the 2000 season with second year head coach Brian Billick coming off an improved 8-8 season by drafting running back Jamal Lewis out of Tennessee with Atlanta’s fifth overall pick. The Ravens then bolterested their offense by acquiring two multi-Pro Bowl tight ends in Shannon Sharpe and Ben Coates. At quarterback, the Ravens started the season with physically gifted Tony Banks, backed up by inconsistent and injury-prone Trent Dilfer — who you know plays a big role in this story. The main distraction for this team was the Ray Lewis murder trial, but Lewis was acquitted before the season started and the team moved forward with the talented linebacker. Ranked 8th in ESPN’s 2000 preseason power rankings, ESPN described the Ravens: “With Sharpe, Coates, Lewis and Taylor, Brian Billick finally has his toys.”
This is a beautiful example of how to build a team, particularly in the grittier late 90’s-early 2000’s. Through the draft. Defense first. Recognize your weaknesses. Fill those gaps with veterans in free agency. As Art Modell said in training camp “With unusual restraint for me, I want to be very, very sober about this thing. But I think this could very well be the best football team I’ve had in 40 years.”
Seattle’s Super Bowl journey began with Pete Carroll’s hiring in 2010. The former USC coach was in the middle of receiving some of the heaviest sanctions in NCAA Football history — not the SMU Death Penalty, but close. Carroll jumped headfirst into the NFL by taking full control of the Seahawks roster, named EVP Football Operations and hiring his own GM John Schneider. Caroll took over a Seahawks team that had disappointed in the years following its Holmgren-Hasslebeck-Alexander Super Bowl run, and was at risk for a long rebuild.
Carroll hit huge in the draft over his first few years, building out his offensive line and defense. His draft history reads like this: Russell Okung, Earl Thomas, Golden Tate, Walter Thurmond, Kam Chancellor in 2010. James Carpenter, K.J. Wright, Richard Sherman, Byron Maxwell, and Malcolm Smith in 2011. Bruce Irvin, Bobby Wagner, Russell Wilson, and J.R. Sweezy in 2012.
The Seahawks defense and young quarterback Russell Wilson excelled in 2012 during Wilson’s first year at the helm, winning a Wild Card game and holding opposing offenses to the fewest points of any team in the league. The performance was strong enough to get defensive coordinator Gus Bradley a head coaching job in Jacksonville, so Carroll hired his former Defensive Line coach Dan Quinn as defensive coordinator from the University of Florida. Carroll clearly liked college hires.
Pete Carroll took full control, drafted well, and motivated his young players like a college coach,. That’s interesting, albeit slightly dictatorial. We have mixed feelings on whether Pete’s shady transition is downright impressive, or so shady that it stops being impressive.
But how do you beat the beautiful story of a young Ravens franchise on the rise by building a stout defense through both the draft and free agency. And to top that off, the Ravens young leader at linebacker just beat a murder charge. And that’s before the opposing ballcarriers he was about to murder. Hit Control+C and Control+V, young Hollywood screenwriters. Tally. Ravens D.
Regular Season Dominance
After beginning the 2000 season with a shutout win at division rival Pittsburgh, the Ravens defense looked shaky Week 2, allowing three touchdowns and 36 total points against Mark Brunell and the mediocre Jacksonville Jaguars. In this game, Jags wide receiver Jimmy Smith caught 15 passes for nearly 300 yards in a 39-36 loss to the Ravens. Shannon Sharpe bailed Baltimore out with a game winning catch in the last minute, and it was smooth sailing from thereon out for the Ravens’ stellar defense.
The Ravens top ranked defense was able to make up for the team’s shakiness at the quarterback position by nearly completing the defensive trifecta – fewest points against, fewest touchdowns against (16!), and second fewest yards against.
Our favorite “game manager” Trent Dilfer started the season behind Tony Banks, who was widely projected to be the NFL’s breakthrough player of the year. Banks started hot by leading the Ravens to a 5-1 start before losing two straight and failing to score an offensive touchdown making it five consecutive without an offensive touchdown. Anemic. Dilfer led the Ravens to a 7-1 finish by playing just well enough, even for the passing-anemic early 2000’s. 12 touchdowns, 11 interceptions over eight regular season starts. It was certainly hard to lose when the Ravens pitched four shutouts and held their opponents to 10 points or fewer 11 times. That’s just ridiculous.
Seattle’s 2013 team was phenomenal on both sides of the ball. After analysts spent an entire summer debating whether the Kaepernick-led 49ers or the Russell Wilson Seahawks were going to be the best team in the NFC West. ( see “The Church of Wilsonism and the best division in football”), the Seahawks jumped out to a dominant 29-3 home win. The Seahawks rattled off 11 straight wins and were the league’s best defense during this time.
Darrell Bevell’s 2013 Seahawks offense was dangerous, but their defense was better. Marshawn Lynch was a top end running back at the time, and the Seahawks rattled off 26 points per game, enough for 8th best in the league. Russell Wilson went off for 26 touchdowns and only 9 interceptions, while Lynch ran for 1250 yards and 12 TDs.
But the question here is who was a more dominant and impactful defense during the regular season. The Seahawks were so well supported on offense that a considerable more weight was put on the Ravens D here. The Ravens D gets the tally for regular season dominance.
The Ravens cemented their defensive legacy in the playoffs, outscoring their opponents 95-23 in four games, never allowing more than ten points in a game. The Ravens actually hosted their Wild Card game against the Denver Broncos, because in 2000 there were only three division winners (East, Central, West) and the top wild card team hosted. On the road, they defeated the defending AFC Champions and division rivals the Tennessee Titans 24-10, before beating the Raiders in the AFC Championship game after Tony Siragusa knocked out Pro Bowler Rich Gannon by falling on him.
The Ravens entered Super Bowl 35 as a three point favorite to the New York Giants, who had just defeated the Vikings in the NFC Championship game 41-0. In a game that was pitted as a clash of two great defenses, the Ravens embarrassed the New York Giants 34-7, a Super Bowl blowout that be used as a benchmark of ‘how bad?’ for the Seahawks’ 43-8 blowout of the Broncos that we will touch on shortly. Note that those seven Giants points came on a 97-yard Ron Dixon kick return. And Giants quarterback Kerry Collins’ statline? 15 for 39, with 0 touchdowns and 4 interceptions — one taken to the house by Ravens CB Duane Starks.
The Seahawks entered the 2013 playoffs as the number one seed, taking home field advantage against the Drew Brees-led Saints. On a cold, rainy day in Seattle, the Legion of Boom held Drew Brees to only one touchdown and two turnovers on fourth and short, winning the game 23-15. Against their rivals the San Francisco 49ers, in what was certainly the boilerplate game of this early 2010’s rivalry, Richard Sherman unveiled ‘the tip’ – batting a Kaepernick pass into the hands of Malcolm Smith over an onlooking “sorry ass receiver” Michael Crabtree. The Super Bowl performance was nothing less dominant. In a game that pitted the league’s best passing offense against its best passing defense, the Seahawks picked off Peyton Manning twice in the first half – Malcolm Smith taking one back for 69 yards. This defense held MVP Peyton Manning to only 8 points.
The Seahawks defense flies their way to the playoff tally.
The Goose was loose. Let’s not forget how truly large Tony Siragusa was. At a peak weight of 350 pounds, Siragusa was one of the heaviest players in the league, and regularly drew comparisons to legendary Bears DT “Refrigerator” Perry, who tipped the scales at 380. Goose, who was nearing the end of his 12 year career in 2000, didn’t total a single sack in the regular season, but plugged holes for the Ravens incredible run stopping group, and pretty much won the Ravens the AFC Championship game by falling on Rich Gannon.
Veterans Michael McCrary and Rob Burnett, who had both been selected to Pro Bowls, led the pass rush along with versatile outside linebacker Peter Boulware. Those three combined for 24 sacks, and were representative of the type of pass rush needed to win ball games in 2000. While they were no 2002 Buccaneers or even 1999 Titans rush, this group was great.
This Seahawks pass rush group was balanced more than it was elite. Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril were both solid, but no rusher totaled 10 sacks that season for the Seahawks and none were really Pro Bowl caliber players. This group was good enough to apply pressure and put Kris Richard’s elite secondary into position, but was certainly not a focal point of the defense and was likely the weakest defensive group.
Tally to the Goose – Ravens D.
The heart and soul of this 2000 Ravens defense. ESPN wrote in their Ravens season preview “This unit is the strength of the team and probably comprises the best group of young linebackers in the league. Ray Lewis, who’s in the best shape of his life after diligently working out to relieve the stress of his off-the-field problems, and Peter Boulware are Pro Bowlers, and Jamie Sharper, who becomes a free agent at the end of the year, is playing for a big contract.”
Hall of Famer Ray Lewis, flanked by a perennial Pro Bowler in Peter Boulware and young stud Jamie Sharper. Ray Lewis was obviously in the prime of his career at age 25 – coming into 2000 off of three consecutive Pro Bowls and his first All-Pro selection, Ray dominated in 2000. He recorded 137 tackles, 14 for loss, along with 3 sacks and two interceptions on the road to the first of his two Defensive Player of the Year awards. He then became one of the first defensive Super Bowl MVPs in Super Bowl 35, joining greats such as the Bears’ Richard Dent and the Cowboys’ Randy White. On top of his highlight reel and statistical prowess, Lewis had a swagger that motivated his entire defense and struck fear in his opponents.
The 2013 Seahawks linebackers were good, as they started future Pro Bowlers Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright (and still do), along with Bruce Irvin and Malcolm Smith. This unit certainly was seen as a stronger unit in the league, but not a top end unit in the way that the Ravens group was in 2000.
Let’s break out the Ray Lewis squirrel dance and a tally for the Ravens.
The Ravens were not going to draft future Hall of Famer Ed Reed until the following spring, but they did have elite secondary play from their two young cornerbacks, both drafted in the top 10 overall picks in 1998 and 1999. That would be Chris McAlister and Duane Starks. McAlister is best known for his elite run from 2003 to 2005, when he was really in his prime. And Starks is most famous for his super bowl pick-six. Starks only lasted another year for the Ravens after Super Bowl 35, due to the enormous contract needs for the Ravens such as Jonathan Ogden’s then-record breaking 6 year, $44 million deal.
In addition to this great cornerback tandem, the Ravens had Rod Woodson the 10 time Pro Bowler who was ring-seeking after many years in Pittsburgh. Rod Woodson was the ballhawk and elder statesman on this defense, a 35-year old veteran who was still at the top of his game. His leadership role for this Ravens team was very similar to that of an Ed Reed or Terrell Suggs on the 2012 Ravens Super Bowl squad. Opposite Woodson was Kim Herring, who was only a serviceable option at Strong Safety but had a big interception in Super Bowl 35.
The 2013 Seahawks, on the other hand, boast one of the best secondary groups in league history with the Legion of Boom. Earl Thomas was their lead guitarist and backup vocalist, Richard Sherman was their frontman. Kam Chancellor was the steady, pacemaking drummer and Brandon Browner-Byron Maxwell-Walter Thurmond switched off at bass. Together, they were a band that redefined the position and served as a model for building from the back-forward. The Legion of Boom proved that Defensive Coordinators do not need to rely on a dominant front seven to be a historic defense.
Kris Richard’s 2013 group was the best passing defense of the year, leading the league in multiple team statistics including fewest passing yards, fewest passing touchdowns, and most interceptions. Richard Sherman, 25 at the time, recorded his banner year with a league leading eight interceptions. Of this group, Sherman, Thomas, and Chancellor were named to the Pro Bowl and the first two to the All-Pro team. Sherman and Thomas will also be enshrined in Canton one day, and this season will serve as the headshot for their careers.
Tally Legion of Boom.
The 2000 Baltimore Ravens, even more than their peers the 2002 Tampa Bay Buccaneers, are the epitome of the early 2000’s defense. In an era that saw considerably fewer passing yards and touchdowns than today’s game, the Ravens stand alone in an otherwise crowded pack. The 2000 Ravens D also extended their multi-year streak of holding every single opponent under 100 yards rushing — which lasted 51 games from 1998 to 2001.
Let’s also remember who their coaches were: DC Marvin Lewis, DL Rex Ryan, Defensive Assistant Mike Smith, Linebackers Coach Jack Del Rio. This defensive group was so good that all of four assistant coaches received head coaching jobs in the next decade.
While the 2013 Seahawks team changed the game and the Legion of boom was one of the best individual units in league history, the 2000 Ravens were the most dominant all-around defense in a defensive era, and are a sacred relic of a bygone age.