Immediately following Stoney Case's 54-yard touchdown pass to Justin Armour that won the game in overtime for the Baltimore Ravens today, Coach Brian Billick ran onto the field, grabbed his quarterback in a bear hug and lifted him off the ground.
Billick couldn't help but be caught up in the Ravens' come-from-behind victory on a day when the team lost key offensive personnel to injuries.
Baltimore battled back to defeat the struggling Atlanta Falcons, 19-13, before a crowd of 50,712 at the Georgia Dome.
"To fight back the way they had to . . . you've got to believe it means something," Billick said, referring to Case.
The 54-yard scoring throw was the longest in a journeyman career in which he has played only seven NFL games and started three. When Case attempted a similar pass to Qadry Ismail earlier in the game, he overthrew him.
This time, Case put just the right touch on the ball so that it landed securely in Armour's arms. Atlanta cornerback Ronnie Bradford chose to cover the middle route rather than downfield. By the time he recovered, Armour was long gone.
"It was an amazing, amazing throw," Armour said. "He hit me in stride. I didn't have to adjust to the ball or anything."
This was a physical game, with several players leaving the game injured. The scariest moment for the Ravens came with 45 seconds remaining in the first half when left tackle Jonathan Ogden (St. Albans School) suffered a neck injury. He lay on the ground for several minutes before being strapped onto a backboard and taken off the field.
Ogden went to the hospital for X-rays and a CAT scan, which did not reveal any severe injury. He returned to the stadium following the game, wearing a hospital gown and a neck brace, and joined his teammates' celebration in the locker room.
"I knew I was hurt," Ogden said. "I had feeling everywhere. . . . I just lay there until they came out to me."
Right tackle Harry Swayne sprained his left ankle and had to leave the game, leaving the Ravens with five healthy offensive linemen for most of the fourth quarter and overtime. Defensive tackle Larry Webster (turf toe) and fullback Obafemi Ayanbadejo (severe ankle sprain) also were injured.
The Falcons played their second straight game without quarterback Chris Chandler, out with a pulled hamstring, and lost second-stringer Tony Graziani to a concussion when linebacker Ray Lewis leveled him in the second quarter. The Falcons also lost starting running back Byron Hanspard--who was replacing injured Jamal Anderson--to a shoulder strain.
With the loss, the Falcons became the first Super Bowl team to start the following season 0-4 in a nonstrike year, although the Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos lost later in the day to the New York Jets, and also fell to 0-4.
Running back Errict Rhett generated most of the Ravens' offense. For the first time in his career, Rhett rushed for 100 yards for the third consecutive game, gaining 136 yards on 27 carries.
The Ravens took an early lead on a 38-yard field goal by Matt Stover, but then fell behind 13-3 late in the third quarter.
Baltimore closed to 13-10 two minutes later on Case's 52-yard touchdown pass to Patrick Johnson with 1 minute 33 seconds remaining in the quarter. Johnson did an imitation of the Falcons' "Dirty Bird" dance in the end zone, taunting cornerback Ray Buchanan. Enraged, Buchanan wrapped him up, body-slammed him to the turf and began punching him. Johnson was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct, and Buchanan was ejected from the game.
"I wish I wouldn't have danced so close to Ray," Johnson said. "I was only celebrating. I wish that I wouldn't have taunted him. . . . I apologize. Maybe if I would have controlled the situation, it wouldn't have happened."
Stover's 26-yard field goal with 10 minutes remaining in regulation tied the score at 13. Falcons Coach Dan Reeves elected not to have kicker Morten Andersen attempt a 53-yard field goal with 49 seconds left. Instead, Atlanta punted.
Take away Case's two long touchdown passes and his numbers were unremarkable. He completed 13 of 27 passes for 192 yards, but was just 11 of 25 for 86 yards without the two scores. However, unlike last week when he threw three interceptions, Case was not picked off once today.
"That's a big step for us," Billick said.