Sams looks to return serve against Randle El


Whenever a big-name return specialist has to face the Ravens, B.J. Sams knows what he will hear from his teammates.

"Everybody on our team is like, 'You better not let him outdo you.' So that's the thing for me to do, go out there and outplay him," Sams said.

The him would be the Pittsburgh Steelers' Antwaan Randle El, who is third in the AFC with a 25.1-yard kickoff return average.

Randle El also is averaging 8.0 yards a return on punts and has been featured more than usual recently as a receiver because of a hamstring injury to Plaxico Burress.

Sams is averaging a little more than 2 yards better than Randle El on punts, but trails him by 4 yards on kickoff returns, though Sams returned a kickoff 64 yards last week against the Indianapolis Colts, his longest of the year. He was one Colt away from scoring a touchdown, and it was just the kind of confidence builder he needed after a relatively quiet second half of the season.

"It's given me more confidence in my blocking, too, on kickoff returns," Sams said. "Hopefully, this week and next week, we'll return one."

The Ravens have stayed with the rookie, even through he appeared to tire later in the season. But Sams has held onto the ball the past two games after getting a vote of confidence from coach Brian Billick, who said he was sticking with Sams despite five fumbles this season.

Now, Sams wants to add to his total of two touchdown returns.

"I'm on the verge of breaking one definitely," Sams said. "I need that for our team and field position. It's coming real soon. Probably this game."

Slightly better odds

The Ravens' odds for the sixth seed in the AFC playoffs got a little better yesterday when the NFL clarified one of Baltimore's tiebreaker scenarios.

After consulting the Elias Sports Bureau, which computes the NFL playoff possibilities, an NFL spokesman said the Ravens can't lose a two-team tie to the Jacksonville Jaguars on the strength-of-victory tiebreaker.

A two-team tie at 10-6 between the Jaguars and Ravens would require the Buffalo Bills and Denver Broncos both to lose at least one game in the next two weeks, and the New York Jets to win at least one more.

In that scenario, Jacksonville could do no better than tie the Ravens in the strength-of-victory tiebreaker - if every game that has not been accounted for in this category goes the Jaguars' way.

If the two teams were deadlocked at strength of victory, the next tiebreaker is strength of schedule, where the Jaguars currently hold a slight advantage (.551 to .541).

Cornering praise

The last time cornerback Chris McAlister talked about Steelers receiver Hines Ward publicly, he used a curse word to describe what kind of person he thought Ward was.

McAlister was more complimentary of Ward, who always seems to get under McAlister's skin during the game with a variety of questionable blocking tactics, earlier this week.

"I think he's definitely one of the best all-around wide receivers when it comes to blocking, catching," McAlister said. "He does that just about as well as anybody."

Stewart not reflecting

Backup quarterback Kordell Stewart will make his first trip to Pittsburgh since his often-tumultuous eight-year stint there.

Stewart was a league Most Valuable Player candidate in 2001, leading the Steelers to a 13-3 record, but then lost his job to current backup quarterback Tommy Maddox a year later.

"It's another football game, plain and simple," Stewart said. "No more or no less. I don't really get into the details of it. I played there so much that I'm just playing a game. ... The reality of it is I'm here, and that's over there. What happened is what happened. I'm beyond that now."

Stewart has been playing the role of rookie sensation Ben Roethlisberger in practice this week, helping prepare the Ravens' defense.

"I try to give them as much as I can from what I understand, but I've been away from them," Stewart said. "And now they have Roethlisberger over there. They have some similarities on how they do things, tendencies and things like that."

Dinkins feels at home

It is a homecoming for tight end Darnell Dinkins, as well. Dinkins grew up in Pittsburgh, played at the University of Pittsburgh and even went on to play semipro football for the Pittsburgh Colts.

He is coming off a game in which he played nearly the same number of snaps as Todd Heap as part of the two-tight end set.

"I was just doing what the team has asked me to do," Dinkins said. "I think with the kind of play that I have, I fit in well with the offense. I think that's why the majority of the plays, I've been in there. ... Coming from the practice squad, I never really thought I would be such a vital part of the offense, but at the same time it's great to go out there and help the team win."

Medical update

Heap (ankle), running back Jamal Lewis (ankle), cornerback Deion Sanders (foot) and linebacker Bart Scott (knee) missed part of yesterday's practice. Scott might be downgraded to doubtful while the others remained questionable, but are expected to play.

Sun staff writer Ken Murray contributed to this article.

Next for Ravens

Matchup: Ravens (8-6) vs. Pittsburgh Steelers (13-1)

Site: Heinz Field, Pittsburgh

When: Tomorrow, 1 p.m.

TV/Radio: Chs. 13, 9/WJFK (1300 AM), WQSR (102.7 FM)

Line: Steelers by 5

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