By Ken Murray
January 8, 2001
NASHVILLE, Tenn. - What appears to be smoke and mirrors is actually the Ravens' defense and special teams.
What the Tennessee Titans perceived as arrogance was little more than a jaunty display of Ravens confidence.
After talking up a storm last week, the Ravens became the first road winner of the NFL's postseason when they bounced the No. 1-seeded Titans in the AFC divisional round, 24-10, at Adelphia Coliseum yesterday.
They will advance to the AFC championship game Sunday against the Oakland Raiders at Network Associates Coliseum.
The fourth-seeded Ravens will fly west on the wings of their defense and special teams. Baltimore's offense appears to be along for the ride after producing just 134 total yards and an NFL playoff record-low-tying six first downs here.
"Just wins, that's all we produce is wins," said Shannon Sharpe, the Ravens' loquacious tight end. "We don't score 30 points. We don't have a receiver that can go get 180 yards, 200 yards. We don't have a quarterback that's going to throw for 350.
"But I'll tell you what we do have: a team that's going to go to the AFC championship. All those big-time offenses, you know where they're at? Watching us."
For that, Sharpe can thank a special teams unit that blocked two Tennessee field-goal attempts - returning one for the go-ahead touchdown - and a defense that cashed in its only turnover for a touchdown.
A 90-yard touchdown return by Anthony Mitchell, after Keith Washington's second deflection of an Al Del Greco field-goal try, broke a 10-10 tie in the fourth quarter.
A 50-yard touchdown return with an intercepted pass by middle linebacker Ray Lewis was the coup de grace. It made the Titans the AFC's sixth No. 1 seed in the past seven years to fall short of the Super Bowl.
The Ravens won yesterday despite two punts by Kyle Richardson being blocked, despite quarterback Trent Dilfer's completing five of 16 passes, despite being outgained 317-134 in total yards.
Over the past three games, counting the regular-season finale, the Ravens' defense and special teams have combined to score five touchdowns - as many touchdowns as the offense has scored in the same period.
Ravens coach Brian Billick wasn't about to apologize for a formula that threatens to put Baltimore in the Super Bowl for the first time since Super Bowl V in 1971.
"Have we turned the ball over? Did we make a couple of big plays?" Billick said rhetorically. "That's evidently the way it is around here.
"Do I wish it were different? Yeah. Are we going to work to make it different? At some point. But, right now, that's us. I'm not going to hide from it. I can't deny it.
"We've got to get better on offense, but everybody keeps saying you can't last, this can't last, you can't win like this."
Everybody except the teams that have lost to the Ravens.
"We're the bully now," Sharpe said. "Like the Titans bullied Jacksonville last season, we bullied Tennessee. We're the new kings of the AFC Central. We're the beast of the Central. We bullied them."
That's the kind of talk that got Tennessee riled up last week. The Ravens spent much of the week stating their case as the NFL's best defense and their dominance of Ti-
tans running back Eddie George.
"Basically what it was was us being confident," said defensive end Rob Burnett. "The Titans and Titans media mistook our confidence for conceit. They feel like we were coming in here as trash-talking, cocky people.
"And we're just a confident team that believes in each other, that believes in the system. It's special. We have something special here today. I'm very excited and optimistic about the future here."
Billick took umbrage at a pre-game stadium video display that showed him speaking about the Titans, and insisted the Ravens had not been disrespectful.
"The guys had confidence, but they weren't out of control," he said after the Ravens' ninth straight win. "They were very focused. They built their emotions up to this. They knew what they were doing by saying the things they were saying. And, clearly, they were blown out of proportion."
The most provocative quote came from cornerback Chris McAlister, who suggested to Sports Illustrated that George folded up "like a baby" when he was hit by Ray Lewis in the Nov. 12 game in Tennessee.
McAlister said he regretted making the statement, but Sharpe came to his defense.
"We've got to back Chris McAlister up for saying that when Ray Lewis hit Eddie George, he balled up in a fetal position," Sharpe said. "Chris said that. But we backed him up."
Regardless, don't expect the Ravens to wage a cross-country war of words with the second-seeded Raiders this week. Ravens majority owner Art Modell will see to that.
"I don't like that kind of rhetoric, and they won't have it this week, I promise you," Modell said. "I'm going to chill it. It was too much. 'We're No. 1, they're No. 2; we should be No. 1. Eddie George did this and that.'
"I don't want to hear that. I don't want to hear about the Raiders' Napoleon Kaufman or Rich Gannon or anybody else."
How did Modell read the verbiage coming from the Ravens' locker room?
"What I read into that was extreme confidence, supreme confidence, in what they were doing," he said.
George threw a scare at the Ravens, who haven't allowed a 100-yard rusher in 35 games, gaining 91 yards on 27 carries, including a 2-yard touchdown run through linebacker Jamie Sharper and safety Corey Harris in the first quarter.
But on three ensuing trips inside the red zone, the Titans were thwarted. Del Greco hit the left upright on a 31-yard field-goal try on one just before halftime, and, after hitting a chip-shot 21-yarder, his 37-yard attempt in the fourth quarter was blocked on the decisive play of the game.
Washington had his helmet knocked off on that try, but still managed to deflect the ball high into the air. Mitchell pulled it down at the Baltimore 10, then took off around the right side.
Across the 50, he cut inside Del Greco and raced untouched to the end zone.
Lewis intercepted quarterback Steve McNair some six minutes later when McNair threw behind George and the ball deflected off George's hands.
"Guys have to make plays," Sharpe said. "You've got to have your big-time guys make the plays they're supposed to make, and you sprinkle in guys you're not counting on to make plays. Anthony Mitchell was that guy today who made the play you didn't count on."
It's a formula the AFC can't beat right now.
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