On fence over best

Ravens: The disrespected defensive points leaders carry a No. 2 chip on their shoulders to Tennessee.

Ravens Vs. Titans

Afc Divisional Playoff

January 04, 2001|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,SUN STAFF

Rob Burnett reached into a cluttered locker yesterday and fished out a freshly painted football.

In purple-on-white lettering, it read:

2000 Ravens defense

165 points allowed

Fewest in NFL history

This week, those appear to be fighting words.

The Ravens set two league records on defense this season, but the Tennessee Titans stole off with the NFL's top defensive ranking in the last game. The Ravens have been smoldering ever since.

"They can have the 2000 ranking, I get this right here," said Burnett, a defensive end, as he held aloft one of the footballs passed out to defensive players yesterday by coach Brian Billick. "They don't have that. I'll take the trade."

As if Sunday's AFC divisional playoff game against the Titans needed another story line, the Ravens supplied it yesterday by playing the respect card in this postseason poker hand.

In a single line of agate in the USA Today newspaper, the Ravens found another reason to play angry. Under a listing of odds for NFL playoff games, the paper listed Tennessee as a six-point favorite over Denver.

Except that Denver was eliminated on Sunday, 21-3, by the Ravens.

The Ravens appeared more disturbed by their omission than by the surprising six-point spread.

"I'm real surprised with the six-point spread with Tennessee favored over Denver in USA Today," Burnett said.

What has been brewing for more than a week became a topic of locker room unrest yesterday. The Ravens are playing the postseason with a chip on their shoulder the size of Mount Rushmore.

"It happens when you don't get respect," defensive tackle Sam Adams said. "Lack of respect, that's it in a nutshell."

Not only will the winner of Sunday's game advance to the AFC championship game, it will also claim the title of best defense in the NFL. This is the No. 1 defense (Tennessee) against the No. 2 defense (Baltimore) in rankings that are based on total yardage.

"The whole country knows who has the best defense," said defensive end Michael McCrary. "We believe we're better. We'll get to prove it Sunday.

"I still feel this game against Tennessee is truly the game that's going to give us the respect we deserve as a team and a defense."

Who has the best defense?

"They're No. 1 in a lot of categories and we're No. 1 in a lot of categories," said Titans strong safety Blaine Bishop in a conference call with local media. "All I know is, these are two great teams and whoever makes the biggest plays is going to win the ballgame."

The Ravens set league records for allowing the fewest points and fewest rushing yards (970) in a 16-game schedule.

The Titans allowed the second-fewest points (191) this season and fewest passing yards (2,424).

"The best defense is the defense that wins the Super Bowl," Adams said. "Who cares who's ranked No. 1?"

It has been a curious postseason of grand proclamations and suspicious accusations.

Billick told network TV announcers last week the winner of the Denver-Baltimore wild-card game would go to the Super Bowl.

Asked if the winner of this week's game in Nashville would go to the Super Bowl, Titans coach Jeff Fisher declined the bait.

"I think the winner of this game actually will be one game away from the Super Bowl," he said.

Then there was the subject over who said what regarding Tennessee's preference of opponent for this week's game. Reportedly, the Titans, with home-field advantage in the AFC and a first-round bye, said they didn't want to face the Ravens in their first postseason game.

Ravens defensive tackle Tony Siragusa speculated as much yesterday.

"I think Tennessee was thinking they were going to play somebody else," Siragusa said. "Tennessee knows we are capable of beating them. I don't think they wanted to face us this week, this early in the playoffs."

The Titans, of course, said that wasn't true.

"That didn't come from us," Fisher said.

"When you're at this level, you want to play the best, and we feel like they're the best," Bishop said. "We wanted to play them because we feel like the team that wins this game probably has the best chance to win the Super Bowl. We feel like, why not play them now?"

The Ravens are eager to oblige. They are also remarkably loose.

"Why be uptight?" asked cornerback Chris McAlister. "Why be so intense you can't have fun with what you're doing? We've been loose all year. I think that's what's gotten us to this point."

It is a point perhaps best illustrated with a four-minute tape of Ravens middle linebacker Ray Lewis to be aired on the "Report from the Ravenszone," on channel 13 tomorrow from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m.

The clip starts with a defensive huddle before last week's wild-card game.

"Today is about respect," Lewis says. "Nobody respects what we've done. ... They'll find out today."

Battling the backs

The Ravens and Titans have faced their share of top running backs. How each team fared against the NFL's elite:

vs. Titans vs. Ravens

Player, team Att. Yds. Avg. LG TD Att. Yds. Avg. LG TD

Bettis, Pittsburgh 32 119 3.7 23 1 27 73 2.7 14 0

Dillon, Cincinnati 33 137 4.2 80 2 28 32 1.1 8 0

Taylor, Jacksonville 44 216 4.9 71 1 17 54 3.2 13 1

Davis, Washington 21 62 3.0 7 1 21 91 4.3 33 1

Smith, Dallas 12 20 1.7 8 0 11 48 4.4 15 0

Totals 142 554 3.9 80 5 104 298 2.9 33 2

Note: The Titans faced Bettis, Dillon and Taylor twice. The Ravens played against Bettis and Dillon twice. Taylor missed one game with an injury.

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