Sharpe short of record, long on impact

Three catches leave him 2 shy of mark, but he has major role in Ravens' win

Ravens 13, Steelers 10

November 05, 2001|By Brent Jones | Brent Jones,SUN STAFF

PITTSBURGH - It figured to be a memorable game for the Ravens' Shannon Sharpe.

Beforehand, there was a good chance Sharpe would break Ozzie Newsome's record and become the NFL's all-time leader in catches for tight ends.

That didn't happen as Sharpe was held to three receptions in the Ravens' 13-10 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field, leaving him two short of Newsome's mark of 662.

What did happen was that Sharpe again had a greater impact on the game than probably any other offensive player, a common occurrence in his two years with the Ravens. All three catches were important in setting up or scoring points, providing Sharpe another highlight game in his 12-year career.

The most important play came with the game tied at 10 late in the fourth quarter. Sharpe got open on a corner route, and his 26-yard reception took the Ravens to Pittsburgh's 36-yard line, helping set up Matt Stover's game-winning, 39-yard field goal with 1:49 left.

The Ravens' offense had struggled to that point. With the game virtually on the line, coach Brian Billick turned to his two most experienced offensive players, Sharpe and quarterback Randall Cunningham.

"You've got your best players going to your best players," Billick said. "We had done some things out of that formation. Shannon was sure he could get to the outside. It was a good play."

Said Sharpe: "I like being in that situation. I like having the pressure on my shoulders.

"A lot of people want the ball early on, but when it comes down to crucial situations where you're tied or behind by three, not many people really want the football because they don't want the pressure of, `I've dropped the pass.' I want that pressure because I pride myself in being a big-game player.

"I've been there. I know what to expect. I never get too high or low, realizing they're going to win some. But in my career, I've won more than I've lost. And I think that's what makes me the player that I am."

Cunningham has said in the past that he feels comfortable throwing to Sharpe because of his experience. Combined, the two have 28 years in the NFL.

"It was good to be able to get the ball to him because he runs a great route, is going to get open and catch the ball," Cunningham said. "He's just a heck of a player.

"Shannon always winks when he's coming out of the huddle. I was looking for him when he was going down the middle."

Even with Sharpe's day, the Ravens mustered only 183 total yards of offensive.

Thirteen of those came on the first play of the second quarter when Cunningham hit Sharpe in the back of the end zone for a touchdown that put the Ravens up 7-3. Two plays earlier, Sharpe had caught a 17-yard pass to the Steelers' 17.

"On the touchdown, I was looking at Randall and hoping they would go `Cover 2' [leaving the middle open]," Sharpe said. `And they went `Cover 2' and I was able to jump inside the linebacker."

Sharpe was shut out the rest of the second quarter and all of the third. So he likely will tie or break Newsome's record in the Ravens' Monday night game at Tennessee.

Sharpe said the record was not on his mind much during the game, but he acknowledged that it was a goal heading into it.

"I really wanted to get it this game," he said, "for the simple fact of why wait a week when you can do it right now. But it really wasn't [on my mind] a whole lot."

Now, the opportunity moves to the national stage, one on which his entire family will be able to share in the moment.

"Hopefully, I'll get an opportunity on Monday night," he said. "At least my grandmother will be able to see the game now. The only frustrating thing was that, in her region, she wasn't going to be able to see this game, anyway. So hopefully, now I can do it early so she'll still be up watching because her bedtime is about 10 o'clock."

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