Raiders unfazed by `D' word

Ravens' strength draws respect, but no fear from rival

Oakland: No changes

R. Woodson bristles at media skepticism


AFC Championship Game

January 13, 2001|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,SUN STAFF

OAKLAND, Calif. - The Ravens made the cover of Sports Illustrated this week. They have been the talk - and the talkers - of the NFL's second season.

Sound bites, feature stories - the Ravens are everywhere. Now they're here for tomorrow's AFC championship game, and the Oakland Raiders are eager to find out if reputation matches reality.

Last night, the Raiders spoke with respect - but not awe - about the showdown.

"We're looking forward to playing against that defense," said Oakland quarterback Rich Gannon. "We've heard a lot about them. They're a very good football team, a very good defense.

"But we feel like we're not too shabby ourselves."

Word of the Ravens' dominating defense precedes them, both in print and on tape. Earlier this week, coach Brian Billick suggested teams had to play the Ravens' defense to truly appreciate how good it is.

Raiders coach Jon Gruden concurred. Sort of.

"I can appreciate what kind of defense they are," he said. "You never really know until you put the pads on and go play somebody. It's easy to say Pebble Beach is a tough golf course to play, but until you go out there and have to make the shots, you never know."

Despite their defense, the Ravens are 6-point underdogs, a line that Trent Dilfer doesn't buy.

"In my eyes, we're not the underdog," the Ravens' quarterback said. "I think we're a very good football team. I think it'll be a great football game."

Upon arriving at yesterday's news conference via helicopter with Billick and safety Rod Woodson, Dilfer was asked whether the team's playoff success was due to fluke plays.

"Well, we're here, that's all I can say to it," he said. "I'm excited about it. I don't need to defend how we've gotten here. One thing I said since the day I took over the job, in my short experience in the NFL, this is the best football team I've ever been around."

Woodson was noticeably agitated by the question.

"You guys are the critics. You see it how you want to see it," he said. "You win, you win. That's the bottom line in this game. People want to think we don't belong ... we're going to play [tomorrow] and see what happens."

The Raiders, meanwhile, paid proper homage to a defense that set 16-game records for fewest points and rushing yards allowed this season.

"Every game film, you look for somebody to sustain drives, put points on the board," Gruden said. "There's a lot of rejection on those tapes. This is a very good defense. They broke an NFL record in yielding points for a reason."

Gannon seconded that notion.

"It's a little discouraging when you put the film on and watch them dismantle teams," he said.

Nevertheless, Gannon said the Raiders would not change what they like to do on offense simply because they're playing the Ravens.

Oakland likes to pound between the tackles with big running back Tyrone Wheatley, and spread the ball around to numerous receivers in the passing game.

"We won't change anything we do," Gannon said. "We'll still be aggressive in our approach. You can't get frustrated against this group. Tennessee had a good approach [in last week's loss to the Ravens]. I thought turnovers were the difference in the game, especially the kicking game.

"They stayed with their game plan. I think our crew is a confident group. We'll keep selling wood and stay together. I feel we've installed a good plan, and we'll stay with an aggressive approach."

But will they stay with the running game if it fails to produce yards? In the last nine games, only Tennessee and San Diego ran the ball as many as 25 times on the Ravens.

"We're going to shift gears," Gannon said. "We always do that. Obviously, the score and the situation in the game will be factors, but I think we will have good balance, as we always do."

Ravens middle linebacker Ray Lewis tends to dissuade teams from running. Last week, he knocked Titans quarterback Steve McNair out of the game briefly with a punishing hit.

Gruden took notice.

"I don't call him Ray Lewis. I call him Lennox Lewis," Gruden said. "That's what I've been calling him this week. He'll knock you out. He's a great player, a very inspiring football player. He has a blinding passion to make every single play."

That won't discourage Gannon from running, Gruden said. Gannon led all AFC quarterbacks with 529 rushing yards this season.

"When Rich Gannon decides to run, he's going to run," Gruden said. "He's well aware of how to protect himself and use good judgment when he's among the big guys down the field."

Sun staff writer Jamison Hensley contributed to this article.

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