Ravens tune out any Music City miracles

Even without trick plays, Mason, Del Greco pose another formidable test

Special teams matchup

January 06, 2001|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

The Ravens' coverage teams want to contain Derrick Mason and avoid any miracles.

The last time the Tennessee Titans returned a postseason kick at Adelphia Coliseum, it turned into the Music City Miracle. A lateral pass from Frank Wycheck to Kevin Dyson resulted in a 75-yard, game-winning kickoff return against the Buffalo Bills, going down as one of the greatest plays in NFL playoff history.

Even without any gimmicks, the Titans are hard to control on special teams.

Mason led the AFC in average yardage on kickoff returns (27.0) and finished third on punt returns (13.0). In their last meeting, the Ravens had their troubles with Mason, who averaged 34 yards on four kickoffs.

"We left with the idea if we're going to come back here, we're going to have to do a whole lot better on our kickoff team than we did last time," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "And they have done that. So, we've come full circle and now we'll see how far we've come."

The Ravens have improved their kickoff coverage, allowing only eight drives to start past the 30-yard line in the past six games. The average starting field position off kickoffs for the Denver Broncos was their 28-yard line.

The other area to watch is the place-kicking.

Tennessee kicker Al Del Greco proved to be the swaying factor in the Ravens' 24-23 victory on Nov. 12.

In the fourth quarter, he missed his first extra point in 230 attempts and then pushed a 43-yard field-goal attempt wide right to end the game. Since that game, Del Greco is 11 of 12 on field goals.

Meanwhile, Ravens kicker Matt Stover has been on target all season. The All-Pro led all kickers with 135 points and has converted 53 of his past 57 field-goal attempts (93 percent).

A key for the Ravens in the field position battle will be punt returns.

Jermaine Lewis, who averaged 16.1 yards per return, finished off the regular season strong but disappeared against Denver. The Titans excel at fielding punts and finished third in the NFL, holding teams to 5.7 yards on returns.

It's a rivalry that has had five of the past seven meetings decided by four points or less. That means special teams and field position could become sizable factors.

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