As go-to guy in the clutch, Sharpe feels right at home

RAVENS NOTEBOOK

Former Broncos star makes 2 critical catches on game-winning drive

Ravens 20, Broncos 13

October 01, 2001|By Brent Jones | Brent Jones,SUN STAFF

DENVER - His pictures hang along the inside walls of Invesco Field at Mile High, right with other Broncos greats like quarterback John Elway, running back Terrell Davis and linebacker Bill Romanowski.

Call it an appreciation of what Shannon Sharpe did for the Broncos in the past, though the franchise could not be too happy with what he did yesterday.

Sharpe finished with five catches for 50 yards, including two crucial ones on the Ravens' game-winning touchdown drive in the team's 20-13 defeat of Denver. It was his first return to the city where he spent the first 10 years of his career.

While Sharpe kept his tongue in check last week, he let his former Broncos teammates hear from him after he'd make a reception yesterday.

"I said, `You all remember me? I used to do this right across the street [at Mile High Stadium],' " Sharpe said. "It was fun. I thought I did it tastefully, not ranting and raving and slamming the ball on the sidelines. I just got a few words, winked and went back to the huddle."

By the end of the game, Ravens coaches knew to go to Sharpe to get the victory. On the first play of the fourth quarter with the score tied at 13, Sharpe caught a 17-yard pass from Elvis Grbac. Three plays later on third-and-six, Sharpe got open down the sideline for an 11-yard grab to the Denver 37 - the biggest offensive play of the game because it moved the team into field- goal position.

The Ravens eventually scored a touchdown on a 3-yard catch by Travis Taylor.

"You go to your best player," Ravens coach Brian Billick said of seeking out Sharpe on that drive. "It was important to Shannon that in crunch time, we go to him, just like Denver would go to Rod Smith."

Being the go-to guy in Denver was nothing new for Sharpe.

"I've been in this situation so many times in the stadium right across the street when John [Elway] and Mike [Shanahan, the head coach] would count on me and say, `Hey, we need you to make some plays,' " Sharpe said. "Matt [Cavanaugh, the Ravens offensive coordinator] said the same thing."

The Broncos fans cheered Sharpe during introductions, booed him after catches early in the game and fell silent after his final two receptions on the game-winning drive.

"It was kind of mixed," Sharpe said. "I wish they would have booed me some more, so I could have gotten more upset, but they didn't."

Offensive line shuffled

Billick strayed from conventional wisdom by shuffling his offensive line in the first half.

Guard Bennie Anderson and tackle Sammy Williams started the game, but were replaced by Kipp Vickers and Erik Williams eight minutes into the first quarter.

Anderson and Sammy Williams returned with 6:16 left in the second, but Vickers and Erik Williams were on for the final drive of the half.

The flip-flopping was by design, something most coaches do not like to do with the offensive line. It is possible Billick is waiting for two of the players to assert themselves, though he said the playing conditions had much to do with his decision yesterday.

"On the road, the altitude was part of it," Billick said. "Trying to bring Bennie Anderson along. Plus Erik is still working his way back into it. You need to be good at that sixth, seventh and eighth guy."

Brookins gets a chance

As promised, Billick got backup running back Jason Brookins more carries.

Brookins rushed for 31 yards on four carries, including a 20-yarder to the Broncos' 17 on the Ravens' game-winning drive. He followed that with a 7-yard carry to the 10 before coming out of the game.

Billick, though, stressed that Brookins was far from perfect.

"He did go the wrong way twice, got the quarterback hit and a penalty flag, for the record," Billick said. "I've got to get a comfort zone with Jason. He's got to keep working to make sure he doesn't do those things, so he can come in and do the things he does well."

Brookins was just appreciative of having a chance yesterday, after carrying the ball just once in the first two games.

"Hopefully, Coach will have some more confidence in me so I can play a little bit more," Brookins said.

No deal ever close

Broncos coach Shanahan said last week that his team and the Ravens never got out of preliminary talks in trading for one of the Denver running backs.

"A lot of people had interest in our running backs," Shanahan said. "But like I said before, unless we had a first-round draft choice offered, and it had would have had to be a middle first-round choice, we were not going to be involved."

Shanahan was even more reluctant to make a deal with the Ravens after the season started.

"They were interested to see if we would make a trade," Shanahan said. "We never really got into compensation from that standpoint, because, once the season starts, I like to concentrate on our team and not have our players thinking they could be traded on a day-to-day basis."

Not in sync

Trailing 20-13 with 5:10 to play, the Broncos faced a fourth-and-one at the Baltimore 19-yard line.

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