In Ravens' war, 2000 better than 2012

Baltimore Sun (TNS)

It has been 15 years since the Baltimore Ravens won their first Super Bowl following the 2000 season.

Linebacker Ray Lewis played for both of the Baltimore Ravens' teams to win Super Bowls in 2000 and 2012.

They won another after the 2012 season, which is remarkable for a franchise that has been in existence for only 20 years.

Often there are questions about which team is better, but maybe they can be tied into one. Can Ray Lewis of the 2000 team beat Ray Lewis of the 2012 squad?

There are a lot of similarities between the two championship teams, but there is only one constant: Ray Lewis.

Lewis was in the final season of his 17-year career when the Ravens beat the San Francisco 49ers, 34-31, in Super Bowl XLVII. His skills had declined by then, but Lewis was the voice and soul of that team.

He prayed and laid hands on players. He openly quoted scripture and talked to his teammates about being indestructible. A lot of players, including return specialist Jacoby Jones and defensive tackle Arthur Jones, brought into what Lewis was selling.

A supernatural season? Maybe. The Ravens really weren't that great, but how else do you explain the fourth-and-29 conversion pass to running back Ray Rice against San Diego in Week 12 or the 70-yard Mile High Miracle touchdown pass to Jones with 31 seconds left in regulation of the AFC divisional playoff game in Denver?

Ravens in 2000 didn't need miracles: Back in 2000, the Ravens didn't need as many miracles.

Lewis was simply the best player on the planet. He took a backseat to elder statesmen like defensive linemen Tony Siragusa and Rob Burnett, safety Rod Woodson and tight end Shannon Sharpe.

That year, the Ravens held the opposition to an average of 247.9 total yards and 10.31 points per game. Opposing teams rushed for only 60.6 yards per game.

So, that's why I would pick the 2000 team to win. They weren't cute and they didn't need anything out of the ordinary. Ray Lewis of 2000 would smack the supernatural out of Ray Lewis in 2012. It might be only a 7-0 or 10-0 win, but that's good enough.

I'll take it a step further. Regardless of whether the Ravens played Joe Montana and his 49ers or Terry Bradshaw and his Steelers, the 2000 Ravens would have a chance of winning because their defense was that great.

Team in 2012 was more balanced: The 2012 team was more balanced, but there were some similarities to 2000. The 2012 team had veteran leadership in Lewis, safeties Ed Reed and Bernard Pollard and receiver Anquan Boldin.

They had some up-and-coming stars like quarterback Joe Flacco, Rice, and guard Marshal Yanda, but not as many as 2000 with Lewis, running back Jamal Lewis, outside linebackers Peter Boulware and Jamie Sharper and the best player of them all, left offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden.

Both teams excelled on special teams. The 2012 team had rookie Justin Tucker as a kicker and Jacoby Jones returning punts. The old championship team countered with Mr. Reliable, Matt Stover, as its kicker and Jermaine Lewis as the punt returner.

Fortunately for both teams, their offenses got hot going into the postseason. After neglecting the running game for three-quarters of the 2000 season, Ravens coach Brian Billick finally moved over to the "dark side" and allowed Jamal Lewis to dominate, including 103 rushing yards against the Giants in the Super Bowl.

In 2012, Flacco had one of the best postseasons ever, completing 73 of 126 passes for 1,140 yards and 11 touchdowns, tying Montana and Kurt Warner for most touchdowns in a single postseason.

It was astonishing for both the Ravens and Flacco because the team had lost four of five to end the regular season, and it appeared they would be one and done in the playoffs.

Defense consistent from beginning to end in 2012: But that's one of the main reasons I like the 2000 team more than 2012. On defense, the Ravens were consistent from beginning to end and few teams wanted to play against them.

In 2000, Ray Lewis was making running backs like Jerome Bettis and Corey Dillon disappear from games. Lewis & Co. also wiped out Tennessee running back Eddie George and quarterback Steve McNair in an AFC divisional playoff game.

So, I can't see Flacco and Rice mounting a running game against the 2000 defense, and McAlister, Starks and Woodson would be capable of taking Boldin out of the game. Pro Bowl pass rushers Boulware and Michael McCrary would harass Flacco all game, so divine intervention would definitely be needed.

On offense in 2000, the Ravens were old school. They had two serious maulers on the left side in Ogden and guard Edwin Mulitalo, and another top player on the right side in tackle Harry Swayne.

In 2000, the Ravens averaged 313.4 yards of total offense per game, including 137.5 rushing. On defense in 2012, the Ravens allowed 122.8 rushing yards per game.

Evolving Ray Lewis: The 2000 team would push around the 2012 team. Ray Lewis had some muscle inside three years ago with tackle Haloti Ngata, but not like the two sumo wrestlers he had in Siragusa and Sam Adams in 2000.

Times changed and so did Ray Lewis. In 2000, on the first day of practice, Lewis walked out on the field in the best shape of his life. His muscles had muscles and as he looked through me, he said he was on a mission to prove he was the best player in the NFL.

Nearly 12 years later a lot of the definition was gone, and so was the goal. Lewis had shifted into team mode from worrying about himself to getting his teammates to believe in one another.

A time to fight had turned into a time to preach.