Dilfer exposes holes in Giants' secondary

With speedy receivers, `I loved our matchups'

Ravens 34, Giants 7

January 29, 2001|By Christian Ewell | Christian Ewell,SUN STAFF

TAMPA, Fla. - Before the Ravens played the New York Giants in the Super Bowl last night, most people identified Trent Dilfer as the weak link in the offense.

But Dilfer was looking for weak links, as well. He found them in the New York secondary. And unlike the Giants, who hoped he would make the big mistake, Dilfer capitalized on those weak links early to set the tone for the Ravens' victory.

The seventh-year quarterback picked on cornerbacks Jason Sehorn and Dave Thomas; once for a touchdown to Brandon Stokley and another time for a 44-yard completion to Qadry Ismail that set up the Ravens' second score.

Over the next six months, whether Dilfer returns as the Ravens' starter or not, these plays will resonate more than the final statistics: 12 completions in 25 attempts for 153 yards and one touchdown.

"I didn't throw the ball well in the first half," said Dilfer, who admitted to coming out a little flat because he tried not to put too much emotional importance on the game.

But in keeping with the bare-bones theme of this year's Ravens offense, "We hit the one we needed to hit," he said. "That's the way you win football games."

Ravens offensive coordinator Matt Cavanaugh acknowledged that Dilfer could have thrown better overall, but he said he knew the team needed to stick with the passing game because the New York defense was the NFL's second-best at defending the run.

"He missed a half-dozen throws that would have made it a great game for him and he knows that," Cavanaugh said. "But he's ... tough. He stands in there and he throws and he competes."

That resiliency might explain why Dilfer didn't see this game as vindication after spending his first six NFL seasons with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

As a top-five draft pick in 1994, the Fresno State product left the lofty expectations unmet. Last season, Tampa Bay coach Tony Dungy benched him in favor of rookie Shaun King, prompting Dilfer's move to Baltimore in the off-season.

But Dilfer, holding one of his sons in his lap, said any bitterness against Tampa is in the past, if it ever existed at all.

"I like Tampa, and I like the way I was treated," Dilfer said. "The negative voice is always the loudest. To depict Tampa as against Trent Dilfer isn't fair."

Dilfer hadn't done a lot in Baltimore - in terms of personal statistics - to give Tampa Bay second thoughts for letting him go. He completed only five passes in the AFC championship game.

But in Sehorn and Thomas, Dilfer saw big cornerbacks who might not be able to react quickly when speedy receivers such as Stokley, Ismail and Patrick Johnson made lateral movements. So the physical Ravens offense would go aggressively aerial.

"I knew that's what we were going to do because I loved our matchups," said Dilfer, who used tight end Shannon Sharpe as a decoy after he'd made game-breaking plays in the team's three previous playoff games.

On the second series, Johnson beat Sehorn badly for a diving catch that he should have made. But Johnson said Sehorn tends to let plays like that stick in his head. Shortly afterward, Stokley beat Sehorn and - after safety Shaun Williams failed to recover - caught a perfect pass from Dilfer for the score.

"We found a matchup we liked," Dilfer said. "I looked the safety on to Shannon Sharpe and Stokley beat his guy. It's that easy."

Dilfer said he will take the next few months to reflect on all that's happened in the past year, not saying much on what his future might be in Baltimore.

He's also realistic about where he fits in the line of Super Bowl champion quarterbacks.

"We all know I'm not Joe Montana," he said. "But we'll recognize that for an eight-month period, we did something pretty special."

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