Defense keeps Ravens' playoff hopes alive

BALTIMORE -- Running back Ray Rice described the Baltimore Ravens' 19-3 win over the New York Jets as a "very good team win." Not exactly.

The Ravens remained in the thick of the AFC's playoff picture (or is it the race of mediocrity?) because of their defense. With all due respect to Joe Flacco's two long passes and Justin Tucker's four field goals, the most dominant group on the field was a Ravens defense that was on a mission.

All week, the Ravens heard about how the Jets had a fearsome front seven, the NFL's best run-stoppers and a top-10 defense. By the end of the day, the defense everyone was talking about belonged to the Ravens.

Baltimore allowed a season-low 220 yards and gave up three points, its fewest in four years. The Ravens forced three turnovers and held New York scoreless for the final 51 minutes, 52 seconds.

"We always want to be the best defense on the field," said cornerback Corey Graham, who tied a career high with two interceptions. "We knew they've got a pretty good front seven, and they play good ball. But when it came down to it, we wanted to be a dominant defense, and that's what we were able to do today."

The Ravens' defense has been the most consistent part of the team. This was the seventh time this season that the defense allowed one or no touchdowns in a game.

The problem has been finishing off teams. Two weeks ago, it was a Hail Mary pass by the Cincinnati Bengals. Last Sunday, it was a 43-yard completion to tight end Martellus Bennett that set up the Chicago Bears' winning field goal in overtime.

On Sunday, when the Jets drove into Ravens' territory in the fourth quarter, it was a different story. Graham picked off rookie quarterback Geno Smith in the end zone to squash the Jets' last true scoring opportunity.

"That was a point of emphasis by our coaches, that we need to find a way to finish, not just drives but games," Graham said. "They made some plays, but when it came down to it, we made the bigger plays."

Where the Ravens made their stand throughout the game was on third down: Baltimore stopped the Jets from converting on 11 of 12 chances. This is what the Ravens did on third down: Haloti Ngata stuffed running back Chris Ivory for no gain when he needed 1 yard, Graham picked off his first pass, Chris Canty batted down a pass and Pernell McPhee recorded his second sack of the season. In total, Smith was 0-for-6 on third down.

"That's just a great accomplishment," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "We blitzed a little bit, but I think it was four-man pressure, and that's usually the result of good coverage, too. Our guys did a good job of taking away the first read or two [and] gave our guys a chance to get there."

Some may downgrade the Ravens because this effort came against a struggling rookie quarterback. But the Ravens have had their troubles with less-than-established quarterbacks this month (Jason Campbell and Josh McCown).

For the Ravens, it wasn't about playing Geno Smith. It was about reuniting with Jets coach Rex Ryan, who was the Ravens' defensive coordinator from 2005 to 2008. In the Ravens' three games against Ryan, their defense hasn't allowed a touchdown. It's not a coincidence.

"There's always a little something added when we're playing Rex," linebacker Terrell Suggs said. "[Ravens defensive coordinator] Dean Pees called a great game and put us in the beset opportunities to make plays as a defense. We’re proud of the fact that we didn’t give up a touchdown."