The Ravens set 16-game records in points, 165, and rushing yards, 970, allowed. They recorded four shutouts, one shy of the post-merger NFL record held by the 1976 Steelers. The Ravens finished first in the league in six defensive categories and have not allowed a 100-yard rusher in the past 33 games.

And they have possibly the NFL's best player in Lewis, who was named the Associated Press' Defensive Player of the Year.

Blue-collar team

But though Lewis is the most distinguished, the Ravens have other players with a blue-collar work ethic, such as defensive tackle Tony Siragusa and defensive ends Michael McCrary and Rob Burnett. They also have potential superstars in outside linebacker Peter Boulware and cornerback Chris McAlister. The Ravens placed three defensive players on the AFC Pro Bowl squad in Lewis, free safety Woodson and tackle Sam Adams, a top free-agent acquisition in the off-season along with tight end Sharpe.

"They can say all they want about offense, but defense wins Super Bowls," said reserve defensive end Keith Washington. "When you can punch someone in the mouth like we do every week, it's a good thing. There is nothing wrong with that."

Said Sharpe: "With our defense, we know that offensively we can't afford to lose this game. That is the approach we're taking. We are not going there and fool anybody and say we're going to try to put 30 or 35 points on the board."

The Ravens tried a wide-open approach on offense earlier in the year, and it didn't work. The team started 4-1, but the early signs of offensive trouble came in Game No. 5, when the Ravens relied on four field goals to beat the Cleveland Browns, 12-0.

The drought

The Ravens went four more games without scoring a touchdown, losing the last three to the Washington Redskins, Tennessee and Steelers. After losing, 14-6, to the Titans, Billick benched starting quarterback Tony Banks for Trent Dilfer, who got similar results in a 9-6 loss to Pittsburgh.

Banks, though, was only part of the problem. The Ravens had a wide-open approach but a new tight end in Sharpe and rookies in wide receiver Travis Taylor and running back Jamal Lewis, the No. 5 overall draft pick last April, who didn't start the first three games of the season.

The national media ridiculed the Ravens during the scoring drought that Art Modell called "The Dust Bowl." But Billick was able to head off any dissension between his offensive and defensive players.

"Obviously, that was the low point in the season," McCrary said. "But I think Brian did a good job of keeping us together, giving us confidence. We went from 5-1 to 5-4, and he said the same people laughing at us now we would be laughing at when we're 12-4."

Even some of the fans started to doubt.

"I guess to some degree we all started wondering what was going to happen, that we weren't going to get to Billick's promised land," said Fred Henson, 33, of Sykesville. "I didn't stop watching or rooting for them, but I did lose some hope."

The Ravens came out of the touchdown-less funk Nov. 5 with a 27-7 win against the Cincinnati Bengals, and then pulled a major upset a week later by defeating Tennessee, 24-23, to become the only team to defeat the Titans at Adelphia Coliseum.

The Ravens followed with two more convincing wins, 27-0 against the Dallas Cowboys and 44-7 over Cleveland, but the passing offense went into a mini-slump during the last three games of the season. It was then that Billick, who has often been criticized for being "too cute" on offense with his "explosive" and "vertical plays," seemed to realize that the team's formula for success would be to combine the team's dominating defense with a ball-control offense.

A star was born in Jamal Lewis, who in the final eight regular-season games (the last seven of which were wins) had 1,254 yards from the line of scrimmage, representing 44 percent of the Ravens' 2,837 total net yards.

The defense, which had yielded 309 total yards against the Arizona Cardinals and 524 total yards in the final two games of the regular season, turned up the intensity in the playoffs.

The Ravens, in the first NFL playoff game in Baltimore since 1977, held Denver to 177 total yards in the wild-card game, a 21-3 Ravens win. The odds seemed to be stacked against the Ravens when playing the Titans on the road in the AFC semifinals, but the Ravens blocked two field-goal tries and special teams player Anthony Mitchell returned one of those 90 yards for a touchdown. Ray Lewis returned an interception 50 yards for a touchdown in the fourth quarter in the Ravens' stunning, 24-10 victory.

Oakland was a six-point favorite in the AFC championship game, and the Raiders had the most balanced offense and the league's rowdiest fans. But the Ravens held the NFL's No. 1 rushing attack to 24 yards and got a 96-yard touchdown from Sharpe on a 10-yard pass in a 16-3 victory.

Winning ugly

The Ravens don't win pretty. Sharpe has become virtually the team's only offensive weapon in the playoffs. He caught a twice-batted pass and ran 58 yards for a touchdown against Denver. In the playoff game against Tennessee, Sharpe set up the Ravens' only touchdown, a 1-yard run by Lewis, on a 56-yard reception down the left sideline.

Those kinds of plays and turnovers have worked in the Ravens' favor all season. Those kinds of plays have made fans believe the Ravens are a team of destiny that will win Super Bowl XXXV.

If that happens, Baltimore might become a football town again, just as it was when the Colts were here.

"I was here in the late '60s when the Colts went to the Super Bowl," said Harvey Kettering, 45, a food technologist from Baltimore. "Those were the days when the Colts ruled Baltimore, even though the Orioles were a good team and going to the playoffs. I think the Ravens will rule the city again."

"At the beginning, I didn't believe we were going to be that good," said Evelyn Boricm, 37, of Cockeysville. "This just makes me realize that miracles can happen."