Del Rio and Lewis reminisce on Ravens historic 2000 defense originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington
It’s been 20 years since Ray Lewis and the Ravens defense finished the regular season with only 970 rushing yards and 165 points allowed allowed. Those are NFL records that have yet to be broken and Jack Del Rio and Lewis won’t soon forget it.
On Thursday, Del Rio, now the defensive coordinator for the Washington Football Team, was the guest on the Ray Lewis Show and when asked for his opinion on the greatest defense of all time, the former Ravens linebackers coach pointed to a piece of memorabilia from his 24-year NFL coaching career.
“I have the football that says 165 points in a 16-game season,” Del Rio said. “I am biased, yes…The Steelers had a run in the 70s, them dudes were really gifted and they had a long run. We didn’t have as long of a run, but that one special year, that was the greatest year ever had by a defense.”
Del Rio is widely credited for the role he played in making that defense what it was on the field. But Lewis pointed to the environment he created in the meeting room as the underlying source of the their success.
“I never walked in the meeting room fearful, even when I messed up because you always said one thing: ‘Give me what you got full speed and we’ll figure out the rest,’” Lewis said.
Del Rio, who had a strong first season in 2020 with Ron Rivera and the Washington Football Team, said that he strives to foster the same thing with his young defense now.
“I’m trying to create that atmosphere, because when you know your coach has your back, you can cut loose at a different level,” Del Rio said.
That freedom ultimately resulted in the Ravens defense leading the league with 26 recovered fumbles and 23 interceptions for a total of 49 forced turnovers that year, with Lewis contributing 31 tackles, 2 interceptions, a fumble recovery and a touchdown on his way to winning Defensive Player of the Year.
But according to Del Rio, the laundry list of defensive accomplishments could have been even longer had then-Ravens head coach Bill Billick not come into the season with a focus on passing the football.
“Earlier that year, [Bilick] said, ‘I don’t care if we’ve got to throw it 70 times, we’re going to move the ball in the air,'” Del Rio recounted. “That was like five games in a row without them scoring an offensive touchdown, and I think we won three of them. But he came into the staff and he’s like, ‘look I know what I said before. I don’t care about that anymore. I think we can be really good if we just play to our defense.’ He said, ‘I’m coming over to the dark side.’
And the rest was NFL history. The Ravens went undefeated after Week 9, infamously shutting out the Giants offense in Super Bowl XXXV and becoming just the second team to accomplish such a feat.
During the discussion, Del Rio didn’t hold back his praises for the 13-time Pro Bowler, whose 17 seasons in the NFL were some of the most prolific in league history.
“The guys who have statues in front of the stadium like you do,” Del Rio said, “those guys they don’t just play great football themselves, they get people around them to raise their level of play.”