Sunday, Jan. 28 6:00pm ET
Lewis, Dilfer mirror Ravens' rise

By Greg Garber

TAMPA, Fla. -- A year ago, Ray Lewis was involved in a street scuffle turned deadly that would come perilously close to ending his brilliant NFL career. A year ago, Trent Dilfer wasn't sure where he'd be playing quarterback this season, if anywhere at all.

Trent Dilfer
Trent Dilfer did all that was asked of him -- stay away from interceptions, and put at least one touchdown on the board.

Whomever emerges from the Australian Outback in Survivor II will have nothing on Lewis or Dilfer. Together they led the Baltimore Ravens to a muscular 34-7 victory over the New York Giants in Super Bowl XXXV Sunday night at Raymond James Stadium.

Lewis, the 25-year-old linebacker, seemed to contest every ball that came into his startling wide range of influence. He was the epicenter of a savage defense that throttled the Giants and, fittingly, he was named the game's Most Valuable Player. Dilfer, the 28-year-old quarterback who wasn't even a starter to open the season, was typically efficient, sometimes even spectacular, in guiding Baltimore to its 11th consecutive victory.

"It's overwhelming to look around and see this team, the way we won, the way we worked through adversity," Dilfer asked. "Listen, we're better than we play. Even after winning the world championship, people might not believe me."

Oh, they'll believe.

It was the first Super Bowl victory for this Ravens franchise that has been in existence since Art Modell relocated his Cleveland Browns after the 1995 season. It was the second title for a Baltimore team, going back to the Colts' victory in Super Bowl V.

These 16-4 Ravens will go down in history as possessing one of the league's greatest defenses ever. They limited the Giants to a single touchdown, and that came on a kickoff return against the special teams unit. Giants quarterback Kerry Collins, following in the dismal tradition of Drew Bledsoe, Jim Kelly and Craig Morton, was bullied and harassed into tying a Super Bowl record with four interceptions.

Hey, Giants coach Jim Fassel never guaranteed his team would win the Super Bowl, did he?

When Lewis -- who will not be going to Disney World in the usual manner of MVPs for a variety of complicated reasons -- was asked by an accidental journalist how he would react to the spotlight cast by the MVP, he laughed. It was a genuine, breathless kind of laugh. It might have been the last laugh.

"Not to be funny," Lewis said quite seriously, "but I've had an intense spotlight on me all year. When you put somebody on a pedestal before the game, all eyes are on you. I played a hell of a game, but that's how I play every game."

Lewis finished with five tackles and, most important, four passes defensed, three more than the entire Giants defense.

It was a quirky game. With 4 minutes and 36 seconds left -- in the third quarter -- the two teams tied the record for most punts in a Super Bowl. The defense on both sides was oppressive. And then, in a 36-second slice late in the third quarter, three touchdowns were scored.

Dilfer is asked to do less for his team than any quarterback in the NFL. He reached tight end Shannon Sharpe for touchdowns of 58 yards and 96 yards in two previous playoff games, and a mere eight minutes and 10 seconds into the game, Dilfer had fulfilled his limited obligation.

After the two defenses forced four consecutive punts, Dilfer shrewdly looked left and threw over the middle to wide receiver Brandon Stokley, who was a few steps ahead of Giants cornerback Jason Sehorn. Stokley dragged him into the end zone with the longest gain of his two-year career. At that early juncture, the Ravens' voracious defense probably felt like it was playing with house money.

Lewis was simultaneously sublime and ridiculous, tipping all four of his passes in the first half alone. The third bounced through his hands -- he is a linebacker, after all -- and was reeled in by teammate Jamie Sharper at the Ravens' 47-yard line.

And then Baltimore got lucky; Dilfer had a momentary lapse into his musty Tampa Bay history. His screen pass into the left flat was intercepted by Giants linebacker Jessie Armstead, who took it the distance for an apparent 43-yard touchdown. But instead of gaining a foothold in an even game, the Giants were flagged when tackle Keith Hamilton put a hold on running back Jamal Lewis coming out of the backfield. It was only a 5-yard penalty, but it erased the most significant play the Giants' underrated defense would make.

"A big play," Armstead said. "It was a play that probably changed the game. It got called back and you have to live with it."

And then Dilfer went beyond himself. He actually made a second big play. On third-and-2 at the Baltimore 20, he dropped in a sweet spiral to a streaking Qadry Ismail, who left Giants corner Dave Thomas in the blocks. The play was good -- superb isn't too strong a word -- for 44 yards and it put the Ravens in position to ice the game.

With 1:41 left in the half, placekicker Matt Stover did precisely what Buffalo's Scott Norwood could not a decade ago a quarter-mile away in now-defunct Tampa Stadium. Stover's 47-yarder (also on grass) did not slide wide right; it fluttered, but it cleared the cross bar and the Ravens led 10-0.

The Giants picked up two first downs and 43 yards in two plays, but Collins might have gotten a little greedy. When he saw Ike Hilliard momentarily behind the Ravens' defense he heaved the ball toward the end zone. But again, the touchdown vanished. Cornerback Chris McAlister leaped high and snagged Baltimore's second interception of the half.

And just when the Giants' defense seemed to hand its offense an opportunity to climb back in the game, Collins (literally) threw it away. With Dilfer heading to the Ravens' locker room holding his left hand -- the Giants' Cornelius Griffin and Michael Strahan collided with Dilfer in the middle -- Collins threw his third interception in just more than 36 minutes. With Hilliard surrounded by three Ravens, Collins forced in a bad ball and strong safety Kim Herring, who seemed to be sitting back in a passive-aggressive zone, came up with the interception.

The Ravens, with Tony Banks under center for a single series, failed to put the Giants away when Stover, the league leader with 35 field goals in the regular season, missed a 41-yard field goal wide (surprise) left.

The coup de gras was Collins' fourth interception. With the Giants, almost impossibly, still in a 10-0 game, Collins threw another dreadful pass. Wideout Amani Toomer had barely broken across the middle when Collins' pass hit cornerback Duane Starks between his matching 2s. Starks' subsequent 49-yard run gave the Ravens a comfortable 17-0 lead.

That lasted all of 18 seconds. That was how long it took the Giants' Ron Dixon to traverse the field for a 97-yard touchdown return. It was the rookie's second return for a score in the playoffs and the Giants, it seemed, were back in it.

Not so fast.

Baltimore's Jermaine Lewis returned the favor, going 84 yards the other way -- the first time a Super Bowl had seen back-to-back kickoff returns for scores.

Make that 24-7, Ravens. The defensive struggle had been interrupted by a 36-second hiccup that produced three touchdowns.

When Jamal Lewis ran over linebacker Michael Barrow for a 3-yard run with 8:45 left, the game was unofficially over, at 31-7.

And so the Ravens became the latest NFL team to come from nowhere to win the championship. Last year, Baltimore went 8-8; this year the total was twice that.

Quoth Edgar Allan Poe's raven: Nevermore! Nevermore!

Maybe the Bard of Baltimore was prescient beyond his time. Maybe his raven, in a back-to-the-future way, was answering the critics of Dilfer and Lewis.

Lewis' defense -- and make no mistake, it's his defense -- allowed 165 points during the regular season, a record for a 16-game season, and a mere 23 points in four playoff games. That's less than two field goals a game.

Dilfer? His 12-for-25 for 153 yards worth of statistics fell short of his true impact. In four playoff games, Dilfer threw exactly one interception. He was an eerily mediocre 38-38 in six cathartic seasons in Tampa.

Now, appropriately, he is 39-38.

Greg Garber is a senior writer for

NFL Scoreboard

Baltimore Clubhouse

NY Giants Clubhouse

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Super Bowl XXXV records

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Frozen moment: Jermaine Lewis returns Giants to dismal fate

Collins makes no excuses for debacle

Ravens notebook: Starks' gamble

Giants notebook: Running game grounded

Despite numerous free agents, Ravens' future is bright

 Comments and analysis from the Ravens' Super Bowl victory.
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 Super Bowl MVP Ray Lewis speaks with ESPN's Andrea Kremer.
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 ESPN's Ed Werder talks with Shannon Sharpe about the Ravens' defense and his third Super Bowl title.
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 Brian Billick tells ESPN's Andrea Kremer how he feels about winning a Super Bowl in only his second season as Baltimore's coach.
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 Trent Dilfer talks about some peoples beliefs that the Ravens won despite having him as their quarterback.
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 ESPN's Ed Werder catches up with Baltimore's Rod Woodson after the Ravens' win in Super Bowl XXXV.
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 Super Bowl MVP Ray Lewis is this week's Sunday Conversation.
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 Kerry Collins gives the Ravens credit for taking him out of his game plan.
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 Tiki Barber and the Giants came up short all night against the Ravens.
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 Jason Sehorn says the Giants could not turn things around in the second half.
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Kerry Collins Official Site

Shannon Sharpe Official Site