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Ravens think edge is Sharpe

THE BALTIMORE SUN

In a week when the Ravens take inventory of their playoff potential, tight end Shannon Sharpe wants to exert a calming influence.

Catching a few third-down passes Sunday against the Jacksonville Jaguars wouldn't be a bad idea, either.

This is the week the Ravens face their longtime AFC Central nemesis. They are 0-for-10 against the Jaguars, going back to their Cleveland Browns roots, sometimes losing in maddening ways.

It was for this end the Ravens hired Sharpe in February. The highly decorated veteran is intimately familiar with winning big games. The implication was clear when he signed that four-year contract worth $13.2 million.

"Coming here, I understood Jacksonville had won the division a couple years," Sharpe said yesterday. "I understood Tennessee had represented the AFC [in the Super Bowl]. In order for us to get where we need to be, we have to be able to consistently beat these teams.

"I realized Brian [Billick, coach] can do wonderful things with my ability. But by the same token, it was a young team, and they needed some veteran leadership."

Sharpe can't beat the Jaguars by himself, of course, but his is the voice of big-game experience. And his message this week is simply to keep all the hype and hoopla in perspective.

"To keep the guys calm and make them understand that yeah, this is a very important game for us, but I think you can't over-dramatize the situation," he said.

"This is not the Super Bowl. You win this game, it doesn't automatically place you in the playoffs. And if you lose this game, it's not the end of your season, either."

Billick couldn't have said it any better, although he tried a little earlier in the day.

As he braced for an invasion this week by national media outlets - from ESPN, CBS, CNN and Fox to newspapers from New York and Houston - Billick established certain parameters of his own.

"We'll deal with the consequences - positive or negative - when it's over," he said. "As I said last week, what you have to deal with [in] winning is not dissimilar to what you have to deal with [in] losing.

"If we win, the players will really be jacked up, and it will be hard to keep their focus on the next opponent - but we will. If the consequences go the other way, there will be some hurt ankles and knees from people jumping off the bandwagon. We have to deal with that, and go on to the next opponent."

This is all new territory for the Ravens, who, at 8-8, broached the playoff theme for the first time a year ago.

"Most of us haven't been in that type atmosphere," quarterback Tony Banks said, anticipating the national spotlight.

But the few who have were quick to rein in the emotion.

"It's a big game, but it's pretty much just another game," said tight end Ben Coates, who played in Super Bowl XXXI with the New England Patriots. "You can't over-do it. You do your normal routine, and you do a little extra studying."

Like Sharpe, Coates also learned of the special fervor with which the Ravens view the Jaguars upon his arrival.

"It's because they've never beaten Jacksonville before," he said. "[But] it all comes to a point in time where things have to change."

If Jacksonville's domination ends Sunday - and the Ravens are favored by a field goal - it likely will end with the blunt end of the Ravens' defense. Asked about Jaguars quarterback Mark Brunell, who threw for 301 yards in a 27-7 rout of Cleveland in Week 1, Sharpe reached for the antidote.

"He is what they call the modern-day Steve Young," Sharpe said. "But I'll take our defense. I don't care who we're playing, who the quarterback is, who the wide receivers are. I'll take those other guys and [defensive coordinator] Marvin Lewis. I'll take those other guys against anybody in the league."

If the Ravens' offense can finish off some drives Sunday, their bandwagon may be overflowing. Banks has yet to get in tune with his bookend tight ends, but Sharpe insisted yesterday they're getting closer to a pair. Sharpe failed to catch a pass in his Ravens debut last Sunday.

"When I first got to Denver, I wasn't John Elway's favorite receiver, either," Sharpe said. "It took a lot of work. It took making plays at practice, and him feeling comfortable with me in practice, and then knowing in the game he could count on me to be where I was supposed to be.

"Our timing is getting better ... I think before long, you're going to see the production start picking up at tight end."

Next for Ravens

Opponent: Jacksonville Jaguars

Site: PSINet Stadium

When: Sunday, 1 p.m.

TV/Radio: Ch. 13/WJFK (1300 AM), WLIF (101.9 FM)

Line: Ravens by 3

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