Vikings Vs. Ravens

Ravens get their wish: 1-game test

`Win or go home' Monday night finale appeals to champs

`If we're worthy, we can rise'

Injuries, coach's exit hinder Vikings, but snubbed Moss ready

January 07, 2002|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

Their title defense has come down to this one test.

With the New York Jets and Seattle Seahawks both winning yesterday, the Ravens' campaign to repeat as Super Bowl champions will be settled by the last 60 minutes of the NFL's regular season.

In this city's first Monday Night Football game in 23 years, the Ravens (9-6) are fighting for their playoff lives on a national stage tonight against the collapsing Minnesota Vikings (5-10).

A victory or tie by the Ravens would send them into the postseason as the AFC's fifth seed and secure a wild-card battle at Miami Sunday at 4 p.m. A loss would boot a defending Super Bowl champion out of qualifying for the playoffs for just the second time in 10 years.

"We realize what's on the line here," Ravens tight end Shannon Sharpe said. "There is no tomorrow. You either win this game or you go home.

"Our season has come down to one game. Now, it's a sprint to the finish. If we're worthy - if we're the team that I know that we are - we can rise to the occasion and get into the playoffs. If we don't, we will not have deserved to get to the playoffs and we won't. It's as simple as that."

The Ravens talked about wanting this exact scenario all week.

Although they could have received a playoff berth yesterday with a loss by either the Jets or the Seahawks, many of the players relished the idea of earning the right to make the playoffs. Since the 1992 season, the only defending champion not to qualify for the postseason the next year was the 1999 Denver Broncos.

"If it doesn't come hard," cornerback Duane Starks said, "then it's not worth it."

While the pressure is on the Ravens, the odds are decidedly stacked against Minnesota.

The Vikings are starting their third-string quarterback Spergon Wynn and could be without injured receiver Cris Carter. They are winless on the road this season, getting beat by an average of almost two touchdowns.

And three days before tonight's game, Minnesota coach Dennis Green suddenly agreed to step down as coach, forcing some players into tears and pushing others toward anger.

"I don't know what to say, I'm as shocked as all of us," Minnesota linebacker Jim Nelson said. "We have one game left, and this will be a distraction a little bit, but we still have to play."

The problems in Minnesota have not infiltrated the minds of the Ravens for one simple reason.

"We see the playoffs sitting right there," Ravens quarterback Elvis Grbac said. "Our focus is winning this game. We've got to take care of business."

The Ravens, who are 10-point favorites, can't take a victory for granted because of Vikings receiver Randy Moss. A lightning rod for controversy this season, Moss was surprisingly left off the Pro Bowl team.

That snub could motivate Moss in his already favorite prime-time forum. He has 39 catches for 863 yards (22.1 yards a catch) and 10 touchdowns in seven appearances on Monday night.

Moss represents a major challenge for the Ravens' 14th-ranked pass defense.

When asked if any team with Moss should be considered dangerous, Ravens strong safety Corey Harris said, "That's like asking, `Is a team with Michael Jordan still dangerous?' The one thing that's good is that somebody has to get him the ball. It makes it a little easier to have a chance to contain a guy like that."

The key then becomes Wynn, who is winless in two career NFL starts.

Wynn has a live but erratic arm, completing only 50 percent of his passes over the past two weeks. In his only appearance against the Ravens, he completed five passes while getting sacked four times in November 2000 as a backup for the Cleveland Browns."[Wynn] certainly changes the equation a little bit," Ravens coach Brian Billick said.

The Ravens have only themselves to blame for this predicament.

This game may not have been a must-win situation if the Ravens hadn't gotten swept by the Browns and turned the ball over six times in losing at Cincinnati. But the Ravens can clean that slate tonight.

"This is not the way I particularly envisioned it, but I'm thrilled to death that we're here," Billick said. "Give me a season where I can come down to the end like this and be a factor and see where we go from here. That's what it's all about."

A Ravens win would give them the same 10-6 record as the Jets, but the Ravens hold the tiebreaker for the fifth seed because of a better record against common opponents. A loss would put the Ravens with the same 9-7 record as the Seahawks, but Seattle and quarterback Trent Dilfer would edge out his former team for the final playoff spot because of a better record against common opponents.

Nevertheless, Ravens defensive tackle Tony Siragusa guaranteed a playoff berth when he announced that he would be retiring after the season.

"All we want is a ticket to the playoffs," Siragusa said. "We think if we get into the playoffs, we could do some damage."

That ticket will either be won or lost by the Ravens tonight.

"I was hoping and praying that Seattle and the Jets win, because it needs to come down to us," Sharpe said. "It needs to come down to 53 men in this locker room, pulling together for one common goal: to get to the playoffs."

Planting seeds

If the Ravens make the playoffs, they would be the fifth seed instead of the Jets because of a better record against common opponents:

........................ Ravens .................... Jets

vs. Bengals ......... 1-1 ....................... 1-0

vs. Steelers ......... 1-1 ....................... 0-1

vs. Colts .............. 1-0 ....................... 1-1

Total .................... 3-2 ....................... 2-2

Ravens tonight

Opponent: Minnesota Vikings

Site: PSINet Stadium

When: 9

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

Line: Ravens by 10

Inside: Sun staff writer Jamison Hensley analyzes the matchups. [Page 5c]

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