Sharpe: `At wrong place at right time'

Second-quarter pass bounces to tight end

pivotal score ensues

January 01, 2001|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

Shannon Sharpe pushed the Denver Broncos further into his past, helping kick his former team out of the playoffs more on improvisation than emotion.

The veteran tight end watched a twice-deflected pass fall into his hands and then raced down the right sideline for a 58-yard touchdown, the pivotal score in yesterday's 21-3 wild-card win over the Broncos.

The play's ending was just as bizarre as its beginning, considering Sharpe shouldn't have been there in the first place. He was supposed to run a 10-yard hitch route, but Sharpe noticed the Broncos playing a deep zone and decided to cut off his pattern by 5 yards.

That's the only reason Sharpe was in that area to catch a ball that went off the hands of the Ravens' Jamal Lewis and bounced off the chest of Denver's Terrell Buckley.

"I was at the wrong place at the right time," said Sharpe, who has two Super Bowl rings from his 10 years with Denver. "Who would have thought a play like that would be the turning point? That really got us going."

The second-quarter touchdown lifted the Ravens to a 14-3 lead and became Sharpe's longest of his postseason career. And no catch has ever surprised him more.

After the pass rolled off the fingertips of Lewis, Sharpe anticipated Buckley making the interception and went for the tackle. The ball hit off Buckley, who was then immediately tackled by Lewis. That left Sharpe staring at the ball.

"The ball just hung up in the air. ... I couldn't believe it," Sharpe said. "When I caught it, I was like, well maybe I just get 10 yards and then all of the sudden the end zone just kept getting closer and closer."

A hard-hitting entourage cleared his path along the sideline.

After middle linebacker Al Wilson missed a leg tackle of Sharpe, Ravens fullback Sam Gash cut off a fast-closing Bill Romanowski with a hit that sent the Denver outside linebacker out of bounds, and receiver Patrick Johnson shielded Broncos safety Billy Jenkins downfield to usher Sharpe into the end zone.

"Normally, that's a harmless play," Buckley said of the ball deflecting off him. "But somehow Shannon got a hand on it. I don't know what he was doing back there. But he made a catch.

"It would have been a big play for us. But as it turned out, it was a big play for them."

Sharpe downplayed any significance about defeating the Broncos, the team that refused to match his four-year, $13.2 million contract with the Ravens.

"I don't really think they gave up on me," Sharpe said. "Mike [Shanahan, Denver coach] knew I still could play, but he didn't think that I could play at the level that would justify that kind of money."

Sharpe finished with three catches for 73 yards. Denver's tight ends managed just three receptions for 13 yards.

"I was happy to see him get that accomplished," said Ravens safety Rod Woodson. "He played so long for Denver. Teams think once you're over 30, you're over the hill anyway. He proved them wrong."

His new family, though, couldn't resist taking a few friendly jabs. The Ravens were getting on Sharpe about his speed on the touchdown catch.

"I guess he had a 70-mile-per-hour wind behind him," Lewis said.

It wasn't that light-hearted before the game. Sharpe chatted with several of the Broncos before the game while trying to calm himself down.

But his biggest play came down to his instincts and not his feelings.

"I was a little more nervous than I normally am," Sharpe said. "I really wanted to do well. [But] I get no more gratification with this win coming against the Broncos."

The play was intended to be a deep post pattern by Patrick Johnson (83) and a hook by Shannon Sharpe (82). Because the Broncos played a two-deep zone with their safeties, Sharpe cut off his route early. Since Jamal Lewis (31) did not have to block anyone in the backfield, he ran out to the flat. Trent Dilfer (8) passed to Lewis, and the pass was deflected by Lewis to the Broncos' Terrell Buckley. Lewis hit Buckley and the ball bounced off Buckley. Sharpe, who was closing in to tackle Buckley in case he intercepted the ball, caught the carom at the Ravens' 42 and raced down the right sideline. As Sharpe headed downfield, fullback Sam Gash took out Broncos linebacker Bill Romanowski with a block at the Ravens' 49 and Johnson threw a key block on safety Billy Jenkins at the Broncos' 20.

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