Relying on a signature defensive stand, the black-clad Ravens delivered a 27-13 win over the Cleveland Browns before a national television audience and 69,781 at M&T Bank Stadium last night.
"He just seems to always be around it when you need it," coach Brian Billick said. "He kind of waited until the end to do it. He could have saved my heart a little bit if he would have done it earlier."
Trailing 13-12 in the fourth quarter, the Ravens pinned the Browns deep in their territory when B.J. Sams tapped the punt out of the end zone and Chester Taylor stopped it with his legs at the Cleveland 1-yard line.
After the Ravens held Cleveland to 1 yard, Browns punter Derrick Frost, who was in the Ravens' training camp last year, flinched and hit a wobbly 7-yard punt out of bounds.
"I was trying to get it off quick. I saw the guy coming up the middle," Frost said. "I knew it was going to be bad, but not that bad."
With the Ravens getting the ball at the Browns' 9, Lewis cracked the end zone on his third try, diving from 2 yards out. It was the only offensive touchdown of a game chockfull of field goals.
Browns quarterback Jeff Garcia put a scare into the Ravens by driving 54 yards, moving Cleveland to the Ravens' 5-yard line with 45 seconds remaining.
But Shea, who got tangled up with linebacker Ray Lewis, saw the ball bounce off his hands and into the arms of Reed, who raced down the right sideline and scored with 26 seconds left in the game.
The Ravens' defense has only surrendered one touchdown in its past 14 quarters.
"We definitely weren't thinking they were going to score," Reed said. "We never give up. We never quit."
The Browns, though, were thinking the Ravens got away with a penalty. They believe Lewis should have been flagged for pass interference as he got to Shea just as the ball arrived.
"It's hard to win when guys are dragging you down," said coach Butch Davis, whose Browns fell to 3-5.
Said Shea: "I think when you're tackled when the ball gets there, that makes it kind of tough."
Another spark of controversy came from the Ravens' locker room.
In his first game back from an NFL suspension, Jamal Lewis ran for 81 yards on 22 carries. But for an offense that had to settle for four Matt Stover field goals through the first three quarters - 44, 39, 43 and 36 yards - and reached the red zone twice the entire game, Lewis said the Ravens have to rethink their play-calling.
"I feel like I'm one of if not the best running back in the league," Lewis said. "Out of all the backs in the league that is ranked where I'm at, they touch the ball 25-30 times a game. I'd like to be called upon because I feel like I can make things happen.
"When we're weak in the passing game [Boller completed 17 of 30 for 142 yards] and weak anywhere else, I feel like we can run the football. We've been running the football for five years since I've been here. I just think we need to be called on a little bit more."
As the offense continues its usual swoon, the Ravens' defense extended its traditional run of dominance.
The Ravens held Cleveland to 217 yards of total offense and let the Browns cross their 46-yard line just three times. The Ravens didn't allow a first down on half of the Browns' 12 drives.
"That's why they've got the saying 'Defense wins championships,'" cornerback Gary Baxter said. "It's kind of scary to sit back and think about it."
The Ravens started slowly once again in their third straight appearance on national television. Unlike those other times, their sluggishness cost them on the first play of the game.
Richard Alston, who was signed off the Browns' practice squad three days ago, returned the opening kickoff 93 yards for a touchdown, breaking the arm tackles of Corey Fuller and Chad Williams in the middle of the field before sidestepping kickoff specialist Wade Richey at midfield.
It marked the first time in the Ravens' nine-year history that they surrendered a touchdown on the game's opening kickoff. The Ravens, who had the NFL's sixth-best kickoff coverage unit coming into the game, hadn't allowed a runback longer than 30 yards this season.
The teams then traded field goals for most of the game before Jamal Lewis and Reed scored touchdowns in the final seven minutes.
"It was a typical Ravens game," left guard Edwin Mulitalo said. "Defense played phenomenal. And we did the things not to lose the game.
"Obviously you've got to be worried [at the end]. But sure enough, the defense pulled through again."
Going more than the distance
Ed Reed's 106-yard interception return for a touchdown was the longest in NFL history.
Player, Team, Opponent Date Yards
Ed Reed, Ravens vs. Cleveland, Nov. 7, 2004, 106
Vencie Glenn, San Diego vs. Denver, Nov. 29, 1987, 103
Louis Oliver, Miami vs. Buffalo, Oct. 4, 1992, 103
7 tied with 102