In what's become the most important game of the season for the Detroit Lions up to this point, they'll face the Baltimore Ravens, a franchise that's traveled to the Motor City only once in this short series. Entering the league in 1996, the Ravens are still relatively new to the NFL, even though they've already captured two Super Bowls (that is, if you consider them separate from their ancestors, the pre-1999 Cleveland Browns and/or the Baltimore Colts). After the Colts left Baltimore for Indianapolis in 1984, the decision was met with much opposition, as many people petitioned to bring football back to the city. Then, in '96, Art Modell decided to relocate the Browns to Maryland and to rename them after an Edgar Allan Poe poem. Since then, the Ravens and Lions have played on the same field three times, with the black birds holding a 2-1 record.
Considering the Ravens aren't old enough to vote yet (they will be at the end of this season), there's not much else to say about the history between the two teams. (On a related note, I have already explored the rich past of the Browns-Lions series.) Both Detroit losses in the Baltimore series came on the road at M&T Bank Stadium: 19-10 in 1998 and 48-3 four years ago in '09. The '98 game is worth mentioning only because it ended up being Barry Sanders' last game in the Honolulu Blue and Silver. He needed 50 rushing yards to reach 1,500 yards for the fifth straight season but fell short at 41. After the game, he commented, "I think the emotion that's most prevalent is disappointment. Really, it's almost regret -- like you wasted a whole year of football." His feelings seem to hint at his eventual decision to retire before the '99 season.
The other loss took place in '09 when the following three players led the Lions offense in passing, rushing and receiving on the day: Daunte Culpepper, Kevin Smith and Dennis Northcutt. Couple that with Matthew Stafford already on injured reserve to end his rookie season and Calvin Johnson failing to duplicate his sophomore campaign and it's no surprise Detroit failed to score more than a field goal as they got dismantled, 48-3.
However, Monday night's game takes place at Ford Field, where the Lions topped the Ravens 35-17 in 2005.
Oct. 9, 2005 - Detroit Lions 35, Baltimore Ravens 17
Heading into this game, both teams looked to find traction after stumbling out of the gate in '05 with 1-2 records. The Lions held a two-game losing streak after beating the Green Bay Packers on opening day, while the Ravens bounced back in Week 4 to defeat the New York Jets after a 0-2 to start. For Detroit, the slow start could be attributed to many factors, one being poor quarterback play. Joey Harrington started the season at the helm of the Lions offense, but after five mediocre games to start the year (including a 5-interception performance in Chicago), 2005 eventually became a heavyweight battle between Harrington and backup Jeff Garcia for the starting role. But against the Ravens, Joey reigned undisputed champ, and he fell flat on his face, again. Luckily, the rest of the offense made up for his mistakes.
So how did the struggling Lions handle an equally bad Ravens team? Five players: Shawn Bryson, Kevin Jones, Artose Pinner, Casey FitzSimmons and most importantly, Dré Bly. The trio of running backs each rushed for at least 1 touchdown, with Jones running for 2. However, his performance (26 carries for 58 yards) looked poor in comparison to Bryson, who rushed once and found the end zone 77 yards later. FitzSimmons accounted for the only aerial TD on the day, giving Harrington his only positive as he went 10 for 23 for 97 yards with 1 touchdown and 2 interceptions. However, this game ends up being a lot closer if the Lions defense doesn't stymie Baltimore's offense, which Bly did by himself. Ol' No. 32 snagged a pair of picks in the first half and added a fumble recovery late in the fourth to essentially end any comeback attempt. The turnovers proved to be the difference-makers: Bly's first pick came inside Baltimore territory, setting up Detroit's first touchdown, and the second happened in Detroit's end zone to stop a Ravens drive inside the five.
Like '05, both teams head into Monday's game with the same record and essentially the same goals in the season's final three games. The Ravens are looking to secure a wild card spot, while the Lions are hoping to edge out the rest of the NFC North. While Detroit's quarterback situation isn't as murky as '05, turnover issues still remain, and it's too bad the Lions won't have Bly to lock up the back end. This game is do or die in my mind for Detroit, and hopefully some Monday night magic happens and the Lions even up their series record against the Ravens.