The NFL generally avoids scheduling more than a game or two on Christmas Day itself but will play as normal on Christmas Eve and Boxing Day, neither of which are holidays in the US. (Note for US readers: Boxing Day is the day after Christmas and is a public holiday here in the UK.)
Since their inception, the Ravens have played eight times over the festive period, which I’m counting as the 24-26th December. They are 6-2 over these games and unbeaten on Christmas Eve, which perhaps bodes well for 2017.
26 December 1999, in Baltimore
Ravens 22, Bengals 0
The Ravens’ first Christmas game was a home outing against the Bengals, towards the end of a disappointing season. The Ravens, led by quarterback Tony Banks, went into December with a 4-7 record, following a dismal 2-5 start to the season. They put together a string of wins, beating Tennessee, Pittsburgh and New Orleans in the space of 14 days before taking on Cincinnati in their final home game. They won – and posted their first ever shutout. Banks found running back Errict Rhett for a first quarter touchdown and then the Ravens steadily extended their lead with five Matt Stover field goals – three in the second quarter and two in the fourth. Baltimore’s 20-3 loss in New England the following week left them 8-8 for the year.
24 December 2000, in Baltimore
Ravens 34, Jets 20
The following year the Ravens were back in action on Christmas Eve. The 2000 Ravens were rounding off an extraordinary season: four shutouts from a defense that had given up just 17 points in the preceding four games. (One of those, incidentally, was your author’s first experience of a live Ravens game.) The Jets were led by a former Raven, Vinny Testaverde, then in his 14th season of a 21-year career.
Testaverde put up 481 yards – the most ever by an opposing QB until Ben Roethlisberger surpassed it in 2017. The Jets took a 14-0 lead before an epic second quarter that saw the Ravens score a passing TD (Dilfer to Ismail for 7 yards), a field goal (Matt Stover from 42), a safety (Curtis Martin dropped in the end zone by Michael McCrary) and then a defensive TD (a 98-yard pick-six by Chris McAlister). The Ravens led 20-14 at halftime and never lost the lead; two Jermaine Lewis punt return TDs – one of 54 yards and another for 89 – helped seal a 34-20 win.
The oddest stat of the day: Trent Dilfer appeared on the receiving list for completing a pass to himself after it was batted back by a defender. The win left the Ravens 12-4 and they secured a wild card place when the Titans beat the Cowboys later that day. Four weeks later, the Ravens lifted their first Super Bowl trophy in Tampa after scoring 34 against another New York team, this time the Giants.Embed from Getty Images
26 December 2004, in Pittsburgh
Ravens 7, Steelers 20
The Ravens went into this game needing to win their final two games to finish 10-6 and have a decent shot at the playoffs. Standing in their way was a 13-1 Steelers team that hadn’t lost since week two in Baltimore and was now motoring behind rookie quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. The Ravens were banged up – several players were injured and others were playing hurt, like Ray Lewis who had a broken wrist. The Steelers were too much for them, winning comfortably and putting the playoffs out of reach of the Ravens. The Steelers, for their part, advanced to the AFC Championship game, which they lost to the visiting Patriots, 41-27.
25 December 2005, in Baltimore
Ravens 30, Vikings 23
A year later the Ravens found themselves playing on Christmas Day for the first time, at the end of a season that had brought little in the way of gifts. A 2-7 start had doomed the season by the halfway point and the team was 5-9 when the Vikings came to town. Trailing at halftime, 14-10, they won thanks to two second-half touchdown passes by Kyle Boller. In the third quarter he hit Mark Clayton for 47 yards, tying the game at 17, and in the fourth he put the Ravens ahead with a 39-yarder to Derrick Mason. The Browns beat the Ravens the following week in the final game of the season, leaving Baltimore 6-9 and out of the playoffs once again.
The Ravens went 3-1 over their first four Christmas games. They managed the same record in the second four, which I’ll cover in part 2.