TAMPA, Florida (Ticker) -- The Baltimore Ravens captured the only nickname they wanted, that of Super Bowl champions.
Cementing their place in immortality as perhaps the greatest defense in NFL history, the Ravens terrorized Kerry Collins into four interceptions and posted a punishing 34-7 rout of the New York Giants in Super Bowl XXXV.
The performance provided validation for Baltimore's pugnacious defense, which set an NFL record for fewest points allowed in a 16-game season.
"The defense has been doing it all year, and never, never got the credit," Lewis said. "But there's one thing that can never be taken away from us: We're the best ever, the best ever right now."
Lewis' amazing story has indeed come full circle. On the night of last January's Super Bowl at the Georgia Dome, two men were stabbed outside a nightclub in an Atlanta suburb and Lewis was jailed on double murder charges. After he pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice for impeding a police investigation, the charges were dropped.
Lewis' problems took center stage during the past week and caused Ravens coach Brian Billick and tight end Shannon Sharpe to berate the media for its negative coverage of Lewis. But the distractions did not affect the zealous linebacker, who enjoyed the best season of his career and capped it with a Super Bowl victory.
Lewis was all over the field in the first half, recording five tackles and deflecting three passes by Collins, one of which led to an interception by linebacker Jamie Sharper.
Having set the tone, Lewis added one tackle in the second half.
"If you put this in a storybook, nobody would believe it," Lewis said. "The Man Upstairs tells you, 'I never would take you through hell without bringing you to triumph,' and that's why I'm sitting here now."
The Ravens held the Giants to 11 first downs and 152 yards. The Giants were 2-of-14 on third-down conversions. Of their 18 drives, nine resulted in three-and-outs and five ended in turnovers.
"I was hoping we wouldn't give up the turnovers," Giants coach Jim Fassel said. "They're a physical team. The front four is a lot quicker and more agile than anybody has probably given them credit for. They react extremely well."
Dilfer made a triumphant return to Tampa, making enough big and committing no turnovers. He completed 12-of-25 passes for 153 yards, including a 38-yard touchdown to Brandon Stokley in the first quarter.
The win had to be especially sweet for Dilfer, who played the first six years of his career here with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers but essentially was booed out of town and lost his starting job to Shaun King in 1999. Afterward, Dilfer handled himself with class.
"Faith and perseverance made this dream come true," Dilfer said.
It was the first Super Bowl appearance for the transplanted Ravens, who were the old Cleveland Browns before Art Modell moved them to Baltimore in 1996. Modell, an owner of the franchise for 40 years, had never been to a Super Bowl, losing three times in the AFC championship game in the 1980s.
"This is a dream come true, in 40 years and a lot of playoff games," Modell said. "I can't say enough. This has been a long time coming."
Modell's Ravens would not be denied, thanks to a defense which has not yet been bestowed with a famous nickname such as "Steel Curtain" or "Doomsday Defense."
With Lewis leading the way, the Ravens eclipsed the record of the 1986 Chicago Bears for fewest points allowed in a 16-game season with 165. They were a brash and defiant bunch during Super Bowl week and backed up their bravado, rattling Collins from the start and suffocating the Giants' offense throughout.
Collins completed just 15-of-39 passes for 112 yards. His four interceptions tied a Super Bowl record shared by Craig Morton, Jim Kelly and Drew Bledsoe and came two weeks after he set NFC championship game records with 381 yards and five touchdowns in a 41-0 rout of Minnesota.
"This is the most diappointing loss I've ever been involved with," Collins said. "I'm disappointed in the way I played. It wasn't a lack of effort or a lack of preparation. I didn't play the way I wanted to."
Baltimore's defense, which yielded a total of 16 points in three playoff wins en route to the Super Bowl, put points on the board when cornerback Duane Starks returned an interception 49 yards for a touchdown, increasing the lead to 17-0 with 3:49 left in the third quarter.
New York scored its only points when rookie Ron Dixon returned the ensuing kickoff 97 yards for a touchdown with 3:31 left in the third quarter.
But it was a short celebration because Jermaine Lewis followed Dixon's feat with an 84-yard TD return of his own, deflating the Giants for good.
It marked the first time in Super Bowl history two touchdowns were scored on kickoff returns. The three touchdowns in a span of 36 seconds also set a Super Bowl record.
Ravens rookie Jamal Lewis rushed for 102 yards on 27 carries, including a three-yard touchdown, against a Giants' defense which was second in the league against the run.
Matt Stover kicked field goals of 47 and 34 yards for Baltimore.
"We answered every challenge," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "And it's not like, OK, now what? It's the fewest points in the history of the game and the Super Bowl."
The loss was the first for the Giants in three Super Bowls. They previously won Super Bowl XXV in Tampa 10 years ago.
In the first half, the Giants had five three-and-outs and two other drives ended in interceptions.
Forced to hurry his passes and confused by coordinator Marvin Lewis' defensive scheme, Collins misfired on 14 of his first 17 passes. The three completions netted only 17 yards.
Baltimore squandered an early opportunity when Patrick Johnson raced past cornerback Jason Sehorn down the right sideline, but Dilfer's pass went off his fingertips.
The Ravens struck first when Stokley split Sehorn and safety Shaun Williams and caught a 38-yard scoring pass over the middle with 6:50 left in the first quarter. Sehorn grabbed Stokley by the waist at the 5 but was unable to bring him down.
With 1:25 left in the first quarter, Sehorn slipped as Johnson ran a pattern down the right sideline, but Dilfer's throw went out of bounds.
Baltimore forced its first turnover when Lewis deflected a pass by Collins into the arms of Sharper, who returned it four yards to the Ravens 47 with 10:36 left in the half.
On the ensuing play, Giants outside linebacker Jessie Armstead intercepted a short pass by Dilfer and returned it 43 yards for an apparent touchdown. But a holding penalty on defensive tackle Keith Hamilton negated the play.
"That was a big play," Armstead said. "It was a play that probably changed the game. It got called back and you have to live with it."
The Giants finally crossed midfield on a 10-yard pass from Collins to Ike Hilliard to the Baltimore 45 with 5:02 remaining in the half. Two plays later, Collins was sacked for a nine-yard loss by Keith Washington.
After working on Sehorn, the Ravens went to cornerback Dave Thomas' side and Qadry Ismail caught a 44-yard bomb to the 36. Only a diving tackle by Thomas prevented a touchdown and the Ravens settled for a 47-yard field goal by Stover with 1:41 left in the half.
Uaing a no-huddle offense after taking over on their 28, the Giants threatened with a 16-yard pass from Collins to Dixon followed by a 27-yard run by Tiki Barber to the Baltimore 29.
On Baltimore's first possession of the second half, Dilfer suffered an apparent left hand injury when he was sacked by defensive end Michael Strahan.
Tony Banks replaced him for one series and Dilfer returned later in the third quarter.
The halftime break did not help Collins. On New York's first possession of the second half, Collins was picked off by safety Kim Herring, who cut in front of intended receiver Ike Hilliard and returned it two yards to the New York 41.
But after three runs by Jamal Lewis netted 11 yards and Priest Holmes rushed for six, the usually reliable Stover missed a 41-yard field goal with 6:03 left.
Collins' fourth interception resulted in a touchdown. Attempting to hit Amani Toomer on a short pass, Collins threw right at Starks, who raced 49 yards for a touchdown with 3:49 remaining.
"I gave him a few passes early to bait him into throwing again," Starks said. "I played soft and I played soft, and I took my chance when I knew I had a great shot to do it. And hey, it's going to cost them."
But when it appeared the Giants were devastated, Dixon scored on a kickoff return for the second time in the postseason. It was the sixth kick return for a touchdown in Super Bowl history and ruined Baltimore's shutout bid.
"When he returned that, without a doubt I thought we were back in the game and we could do it," Fassel said.
But it was Jermaine Lewis' turn to hurt the Giants. An explosive punt returner, Lewis has only been handling kickoffs since the postseason. He picked the perfect time for his first touchdown.
"After Dixon scored I said, 'I got to come back and get me one,'" Lewis said. "It's something to get a good return, but it's another thing to finish it and that's what I wanted to do."
After Jamal Lewis scored on a two-yard run to increase the lead to 31-7 with 8:45 left, New York committed its fifth turnover when Dixon fumbled the kickoff after he was hit by James Trapp.
Robert Bailey recovered at the New York 34 and five plays later, Stover kicked a 34-yard field goal.