Game 11: Ravens tiptoe by Jags

JACKSONVILLE, FLA. — Seven days ago, Shannon Sharpe declared that Elvis Grbac hadn't gotten the job done.

But with the game on the line yesterday, the Ravens' tight end called out his quarterback's name in the huddle and gave him a wink. Rescuing the Ravens from a 17-point collapse, Grbac found Sharpe in the back of the end zone with nine seconds remaining, lifting the Ravens to a 24-21, come-from-behind triumph before an announced crowd of 53,530 at ALLTEL Stadium.

In a week that started with teammates separated by words vented out of frustration, it ended with Grbac and Sharpe connecting in dramatic fashion.

"I think you guys didn't understand when I said that Shannon and I were back on the same page in what we needed to do," Grbac said. "Anytime a guy like that gives you the wink, I think you're going to go to him. He made a great play."

The defending Super Bowl champion's third comeback victory in the fourth quarter this season - but first with Grbac - kept the 7-4 Ravens 1 1/2 games behind AFC Central-leading Pittsburgh and tested the team's confidence in its quarterback.

The Jaguars (3-7) rallied from a 17-0 deficit four minutes into the third quarter behind Mark Brunell's arm and a no-huddle offense and took a 21-17 lead with 1:32 left in the game on a drive set up by Ravens running back Jason Brookins' fumble.

But 74 yards away from the end zone, the Ravens rested their fate - and quite possibly their season - on a once-struggling Grbac. A week after throwing four interceptions, he was forced to switch from a game-long conservative approach to an attacking mentality.

"Anytime I've got over a minute and I have two timeouts," Grbac said, "I have a great opportunity."

Grbac hit Qadry Ismail for 25 yards (and his longest completion of the day) on his second pass of the drive, moving the Ravens to the Jacksonville 49. After spiking the ball to stop the clock, he avoided pressure by stepping up into the pocket and throwing across his body on the run to connect with Brandon Stokley for 17 yards.

Following a 10-yard pass to Sharpe, Grbac threaded a 16-yard strike in between two defenders to Ismail on a post pattern and set the Ravens at the 1-yard line with 36 seconds remaining. An unsuccessful run by Brookins to the outside pushed the Ravens back to the Jaguars' 3 and led to a risky play call.

Spreading out Jacksonville with all five receivers going vertical, Grbac delivered a high-arcing toss that fell into Sharpe's hands in perfect stride. Coming down on his left foot, Sharpe dragged his right one just inches in bounds and completed the nine-play comeback drive.

After getting mobbed by his teammates, Sharpe was greeted by a smiling Grbac, who tapped him on his helmet.

"Elvis understands that he was brought here to do a job and Elvis understands that we're going to ride him," said Sharpe, who followed his criticism last Sunday of Grbac by voicing support for the quarterback Wednesday. "If the horse can't make it, we're going to stand him up and beat him and ride him some more. But he is the guy that can get us where we needed to go. You can see when he's protected, he can throw the football as good as anybody in this league."

The pass caught Sharpe off-guard since the throw had gone to tight end Todd Heap every time the play was practiced this week.

But Grbac saw the blitz coming and put his faith in Sharpe. Taking a quick three-step drop, Grbac threw off his back foot to Sharpe, who had beaten second-year safety Ainsley Battles by a couple of steps after faking a slant.

"I took the best matchup," said Grbac, who finished 21-for-30 for 259 yards with one interception. "And that's a pretty good matchup right there with No. 82."

The drive was one of vindication for Grbac as well as Ravens coach Brian Billick. After the final series in which he completed five of eight passes for 71 yards, Grbac went over to the sideline and gave Billick an emotional hug.

All week Billick had defended his decision to stick with Grbac. And yesterday, he reaped the reward.

"That's why that guy is my quarterback," Billick said. "Under tough conditions to come back the way he did, maybe, just maybe some of you understand that."

The Ravens rolled out to a 17-0 lead early in the third quarter by using the same methodical style that took them to last year's Super Bowl title. The game plan was to run more and keep Grbac from taking seven-step drops to take pressure off the tackles.

While Brookins grinded out yards, Grbac threw short-to-intermediate passes to his tight ends and running backs. That philosophy worked until the Ravens' defense stumbled.

After shutting out Jacksonville for nearly three quarters, the Ravens allowed 212 yards and three touchdowns in the final 25 minutes.

The Jaguars were helped when Brookins flawed an impressive performance by fumbling at his own 38-yard line with 4:19 left in the game and the Ravens trying to run out the clock. Eight plays later, Stacey Mack ran for a 3-yard touchdown to put Jacksonville ahead, 21-17, with 1:32 remaining.

"It's getting around the league: If you put the helmet on Brookins, he'll put the ball on the ground," Sharpe said. "He's the only one that can stop it. He has to take it upon himself to take care of the football."

This time, the Ravens' defense couldn't make the pivotal stop and was saved by the offense. The gesture did not go unnoticed.

"When things like that happen, our offense needs to step up to the plate," safety Rod Woodson said. "We're starting to show character on both sides of the football where we win games when one side has a quarter like we had today."

After recording their fourth road victory, the Ravens now enter their long-awaited homestretch in which they play four of their final five regular-season games at PSINet Stadium.

But before Grbac moves forward, he will savor yesterday's victory. As much as it was a satisfying rally for the Ravens, the comeback held more meaning for Gbrac.

"For everything that happened last week," Grbac said, "it was a good way to win."