Monday, January 15, 2001

Ravens ride defense to Super Bowl

Baltimore forces five Raider turnovers

By Mark Curnutte
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        OAKLAND, Calif. — Before every game, Ravens tight end Shannon Sharpe asks defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis how many points the offense has to score for the team to win.

        Before Sunday's AFC Championship, won 16-3 by Baltimore, Lewis said, “Seven.”

        “I said, "Marvin, you need only seven points in an AFC Championship against Oakland,'” Sharpe said, “He said, "That's all we need.'”

        Lewis was right. Baltimore's record-setting, mouth-smashing, trash-talking defense played its best game Sunday on its biggest stage, earning a Super Bowl berth against the New York Giants and winning more believers around the country who claim the defense belongs among the all-time greats.

        The Ravens stuffed the NFL's best running game, knocked out Oakland quarterback Rich Gannon and forced five turnovers to win the AFC title.

        The victory was Baltimore's 10th in a row and third of the postseason.

        Enough talk that two of the Ravens' four shutouts came against feeble offenses in Cincinnati and Cleveland. All they've done is hold three playoff teams to a combined 16 points and one touchdown.

        And coach Brian Billick can gush all he wants about Ravens owner Art Modell going to the Super Bowl for the first time, but the big story at Network Associates Coliseum was how pathetic the Ravens' defense made a very good Oakland offense look.

        Baltimore, which set an NFL record by allowing only 165 points, is quickly taking its place with the mid-1980s Chicago Bears' and Steel Curtain Pittsburgh defenses of the '70s.

        Oakland coach Jon Gruden mentioned the Ravens in the same breath as the Los Angles Rams' “Fearsome Foursome” of the '60s.

        “If they're not the best, then they're way up there at the top, absolutely,” said Gruden, who watched his rushing game only gain 24 yards on 17 attempts. “They are very explosive from left corner to right corner.”

        Oakland was third in the NFL in scoring at 29.9 points a game and had torched Miami for 27 points in their divisional playoff victory a week earlier.

        And the Raiders' three points were set up by a Johnnie Harris interception of a Trent Dilfer pass at the Ravens' 39-yard line. Helped by a roughing the passer penalty on Tony Siragusa, Oakland drove to a first down at the Baltimore 2.

        But the Ravens threw Tyrone Wheatley — who was held to seven yards on 12 carries — for a one-yard loss. Linebacker Jamie Sharper sacked Gannon, and Gannon threw incomplete into the end zone on third down. The Raiders had to settle for Sebastian Janikowski's 24-yard field goal.

        The Raiders were first in the AFC and second in the league in fewest giveaways — 11 interceptions and nine fumbles. But the Ravens intercepted Gannon twice and backup Bobby Hoying another two times. They forced two Oakland fumbles and recovered one.

        The fumble recovery Sunday belonged to middle linebacker Ray Lewis, the NFL Defensive Player of the Year, and it was his third takeaway in as many postseason games. He wasn't suprised by his defense's performance.

        “Not at all,” said Lewis, who had seven tackles. “This defense has done things all year that defenses haven't done.”

        Oakland was favored to win by six, but it didn't get a first down until the second quarter. It was first in the NFL in rushing at 154.4 yards a game and had only 24 against Baltimore. The Raiders' 128 rushing first downs were second in the league, yet they had only two Sunday.

        “The nature of our defense, you get a feel of having control of the game defensively, that dictates what you do offensively,” Billick said.

        Baltimore ran the ball 46 times for 110 yards and had possession for 34:38, nine minutes more than Oakland.

        The Ravens were able to fall into their ball-control offense because they scored first.

        Backup up at the 4-yard line and facing a third and 18, quarterback Trent Dilfer hit Sharpe in stride on a slant pattern at the 10. After safety Marquez Pope made a lunging atempt at an arm tackle, Sharpe ran 90 yards untouched for the game's only touchdown.

        “We are just trying to get out of the hole,” said Dilfer, who's 10-1 since taking over as the starter in place of Tony Banks. “Shannon promised me at the beginning of the game that he would make some plays, and he never lets me down.”

        The TD pass, which took the rowdy Oakland crowd out of the game, is the longest offensive play from scrimmage in NFL playoff history. It betters the 94-yard touchdown pass from Dallas quarterback Troy Aikman to Alvin Harper against Green Bay in 1994.

        The score also gave Baltimore a lift. It had moved the ball the first four times it had the ball, either starting or driving into Oakland territory.

        When it was over, Modell basked in the glory of his first Super Bowl trip, and he, too, stopped to praise his defense.

        “I've said from the beginning this may be the best team I've ever had,” he said. “But, by no question, the best defense. When we kept slamming the door shut, it built up my hopes.”

        Baltimore ....... 0 10 3 3—16

        Oakland ....... 0 0 3 0— 3

        Second Quarter

        Bal—Sharpe 96 pass from Dilfer (Stover kick), 11:08.

        Bal—FG Stover 31, 8:19.

        Third Quarter

        Oak—FG Janikowski 24, 10:07.

        Bal—FG Stover 28, 5:08.

        Fourth Quarter

        Bal—FG Stover 21, 7:28.



        RUSHING—Baltimore, Ja.Lewis 29-79, Holmes 9-31, Dilfer 7-4, Ismail 1-(minus 4). Oakland, Hoying 3-13, Wheatley 12-7, Gannon 1-2, Jordan 1-2.

        PASSING—Baltimore, Dilfer 9-18-1-190. Oakland, Gannon 11-21-2-80, Hoying 8-16-2-107.

        RECEIVING—Baltimore, Stokley 3-31, Ja.Lewis 3-21, Sharpe 1-96, Coates 1-24, Ismail 1-18. Oakland, Brown 5-48, Jett 3-16, Kirby 2-41, Brigham 2-22, Crockett 2-9, Porter 1-19, Rison 1-16, Dudley 1-7, Ritchie 1-5, Wheatley 1-4.

        MISSED FIELD GOALS—Baltimore, Stover 36 (WR).


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