Offensive line puts holes in doubts

Front five blocks out recent past, shoves aside Broncos for Ja. Lewis

January 01, 2001|By Edward Lee | Edward Lee,SUN STAFF

If there was an overriding theme to the performance of the Ravens' offensive line, it may have been redemption.

Putting to rest memories of unspectacular outings against the Arizona Cardinals and New York Jets, the Baltimore front five of center Jeff Mitchell, guards Mike Flynn and Edwin Mulitalo, and tackles Harry Swayne and Jonathan Ogden anchored the Ravens' 21-3 wild-card victory against the Denver Broncos yesterday.

"It's really gratifying to play like this in our first playoff game," Swayne said. "We've been struggling the past couple of weeks, but we knew that we could do it today."

That sense of optimism became reality as the offensive line dictated the game against Denver's defensive unit.

The Ravens' front five opened enough holes for running back Jamal Lewis to rush for 110 yards and two touchdowns on 30 carries.

Baltimore's offense also retained possession of the ball by a nearly five-minute advantage over the Broncos, who sacked quarterback Trent Dilfer only twice.

The offensive line's play helped the five players forget disappointing outings against the Cardinals Dec. 17, and the Jets a week later.

In the 13-7 victory over Arizona, the offense racked up just 214 yards, and the line allowed the Cardinals to sack Dilfer four times.

In the 34-20 win against New York, the Ravens won despite gaining a measly 142 yards and giving up four more sacks.

"We've been struggling a bit," Ogden said. "Today, we played a physical game, a smart game, and we didn't get many penalties."

Baltimore's recipe for success against the Broncos began with the first two plays of the game. From the Ravens' 32-yard line, Lewis ran to the left for 4 yards and repeated with a 15-yard scamper to Denver's 49.

"If you watched the defense of Denver, they weren't surging, coming after us," Mulitalo said. "They kind of sat back ... reading. When a defense does that and we can tee off on them, we can beat them."

Denver's porous run defense on a day with wind gusts as high as 27 mph also gave the line reason to believe that it could make a statement.

"We felt that we had to stick it in there, especially today with the wind blowing the football around and the quarterbacks not being able to throw the ball," Swayne said. "It came down to whose defense was going to stop the run. It turns out that ours did."

Flynn said another factor was the line's refusal to be intimidated by the Broncos' tactic of placing as many as nine defenders up front.

"It's a numbers game," Flynn said. "We just wanted to push and get our 4, 5 yards and not make it a third-and-long situation. ... We accepted the challenge by being real physical."

Perhaps the high point of the line's day came on the fifth play of the second quarter. Faced with a first-and-10 from the Broncos' 21-yard line, the Ravens handed the ball to Lewis, who followed Ogden's lead block and plowed 20 yards to the 1-yard line.

Blocks like Ogden's did not go unnoticed by Lewis.

"I owe it to the offensive line," said Lewis, who scored a touchdown from the 1-yard line and later converted a 27-yard run in the third quarter. "The wide receivers were downfield blocking, and we took control of the line of scrimmage. I just kept it up."

While the front five will enjoy the fruits of their labor, they are well aware that an even greater challenge awaits them next Sunday when they meet the top-ranked defense of the Tennessee Titans for the third time this season.

"No doubt that when you're successful, you build some confidence," Mitchell said. "We know who we're playing. Preparing for the game won't be oriented to who they are, but what they do."

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