For 6 Pro Bowl Ravens, postseason is guaranteed

Woodson heads group with 10th selection

January 03, 2002|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

Although the Ravens had six players selected to the Pro Bowl, the defending Super Bowl champions are fixed on securing a far more important invitation - the playoffs.

With a postseason berth on the line on the NFL's final weekend, the Ravens celebrated the honor of being the AFC's most-represented team but realize they have some unfinished business. The six Ravens named to next month's Pro Bowl were linebacker Ray Lewis, tight end Shannon Sharpe, safety Rod Woodson, offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden, defensive tackle Sam Adams and return specialist Jermaine Lewis.

"Each of these individuals will tell you that it's great to be acknowledged," Ravens coach Brian Billick said, "but they would trade it for another Super Bowl in a New York minute."

The Ravens and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, both of whom have 9-6 records, led the league with six Pro Bowl selections each, while the St. Louis Rams, with an NFL-best record of 13-2, had five players named.

One third of the voting was done by fans, one third by players and one third by coaches. Starters will be announced Jan. 12.

The Ravens' six selections, which ties the 1998 team for the most in team history, didn't surprise Billick.

"We are an imminent playoff team," Billick said. "There are only so many of them. So somewhere a long the line, we've done a couple of things right."

The naming of Woodson put him in elite company yet raised the eyebrows of some national media who consider him past his prime.

He becomes only the eighth player in NFL history to picked for 10 or more Pro Bowls, joining Bruce Matthews (14), Randall McDaniel (12), Reggie White (11), Junior Seau (11), Lawrence Taylor (10), Ronnie Lott (10) and Mike Singletary (10).

A 15-year veteran, Woodson is third on the Ravens with 90 tackles and 12 passes broken up. He also has three interceptions, including one returned for touchdown.

"It doesn't get old to be named to the Pro Bowl," said Woodson, who was voted in for the third straight year as a Raven. "It's nice to be in that group of players who have gone 10 times. There are great ones in that group. It means I've been around awhile."

Woodson is one of three players taken from the NFL's fourth-ranked defense.

Adams, a first-time honoree last season, is returning after another solid year. Despite not practicing most of the season because of a knee injury, Adams has remained a disruptive force on game days with one of the quickest first steps of any NFL lineman. He has 48 tackles and two sacks this season.

The league's reigning Defensive Player of the Year, Ray Lewis was selected for the fifth consecutive year. In addition to his team-leading 187 tackles, he has produced 13 passes broken up, 3.5 sacks and three interceptions.

"It's a blessing and an honor," Ray Lewis said. "It's good to know that the players and coaches recognize your production because that makes you feel better about your play."

On offense, the Ravens will send two perennial selections, Ogden and Sharpe.

Ogden, the anchor of the Ravens' line, was named for the fifth straight year. That's the longest current streak of any offensive tackle in the league.

Sharpe, who was not selected the past two seasons, returns after making seven consecutive trips from 1992 to 1998. In a season where he became the NFL's all-time leader in receptions and receiving yards for a tight end, he is tied with Kansas City's Tony Gonzalez for catches at that position with 71.

"I'm excited to be chosen again," Sharpe said.

That excitement was shared by Jermaine Lewis, who headed to the Pro Bowl for just his second time. Lewis is second in the AFC in both punt and kickoff returns.

"Oh, I'm thrilled," Jermaine Lewis said. "I was checking online last night and saw that I wasn't leading in the fan vote and that worried me some. But I'm so happy. I really focused this season on the return game and worked hard to help my team in this area. It's nice to get a reward like this."

Next for Ravens

Opponent: Minnesota Vikings

Site: PSINet Stadium

When: Monday, 9 p.m.

TV/Radio: Chs. 2, 7/WJFK (1300 AM), WQSR (102.7 FM)

Line: Ravens by 10

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