Ravens say past not a roadblock

To repeat, champs probably have to win three away from home

`Super Bowl is our destiny'

They would be first to take that path to championship

January 09, 2002|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

If the Ravens want to repeat history, they will have to make it.

Barring an unforeseen run by the sixth-seeded New York Jets to the AFC championship game, the Ravens can hold onto their title only by winning three straight road playoff games in addition to prevailing in the Super Bowl - a feat never accomplished in the NFL. The only team to reel off three straight road victories was the 1985 New England Patriots, who were then blown out in the Super Bowl by the Chicago Bears.

Undaunted by the past, the fifth-seeded Ravens have already declared their final destination for a playoff road trip that begins with Sunday's wild-card game in Miami.

"Right now, we're in the playoffs and records don't matter," middle linebacker Ray Lewis said after Monday's 19-3 victory over the Minnesota Vikings. "It's all up in the air right now. The Super Bowl in New Orleans is our destiny."

That destiny is paved with several challenging stops.

The fourth-seeded Miami Dolphins are 7-1 at Pro Player Stadium, winning their last four games there by an average margin of 20 points. The AFC's top two seeds, the Pittsburgh Steelers and the New England Patriots, are a combined 13-3 at home this season.

But the Ravens thrive in the role of the underdog. Last year as the fourth seed, the Ravens surprised the league by upsetting the Tennessee Titans and the Oakland Raiders on the road.

"Anything can happen," Sharpe said. "If anybody can win three on the road, we're equipped for it. We feel confident going into the playoffs. With the way our defense is playing and our offense not turning the ball over, it's like here we go again."

Ravens coach Brian Billick sees more parity in this AFC playoff field than the one his team ran through last year.

"The AFC playoffs are an open field," Billick said. "Taking nothing away from Pittsburgh, which is clearly on top of the ladder, the other five teams all have questions about themselves. I take the approach that if we take care of business, we can make a run at this thing like last year."

The Ravens' first test is a Dolphins team that shares similar qualities to the defending champions. Like the Ravens, Miami has relied on its defense while withstanding 19 interceptions by quarterback Jay Fiedler.

Turnovers have been the key to success for Ravens quarterback Elvis Grbac. The Ravens are 8-1 when he throws two or fewer interceptions, and Grbac played to his team's defensive strength on Monday by not forcing any passes.

The Ravens defense, which finished ranked No. 2 just like last season, caused four turnovers and limited the Vikings to 179 yards of total offense.

"We've got the defense playing pretty damned good the last couple of weeks," Grbac said. "That got them a Super Bowl, didn't it? That's all I want."

The most disturbing trend heading into the playoffs is the Ravens' recent ineffectiveness close to the goal line. The Ravens have not scored a touchdown in their last five trips inside their opponents' 10-yard line.

On Monday, the Ravens failed to score a touchdown despite seven tries inside the 4.

"If we could have scored on our red-zone opportunities and down at the goal line, we probably have a totally different feel today than what some people are feeling about us and our chances," Billick said. "You get five or six shots down at the goal line, you need to push it in. That's where my biggest frustration was."

One of the problems was the rustiness of running back Jason Brookins, who was playing in his first game after breaking a bone in his right foot six weeks ago. Before Monday night, Brookins was nearly automatic there, scoring all five of his touchdowns this season from 2 yards or closer.

"There were a couple of opportunities where Jason could have kept it more to the outside that he could have gone in," Billick said. "But he's been out of the loop for a little bit. He'll have to read that a little better next time and we're going to have to block a little better next time."

So while the road to the Super Bowl doesn't go through Baltimore, the Ravens are ready to travel the path to get there.

"We've got a ticket to the dance," defensive tackle Tony Siragusa said. "Our goal is to dance to New Orleans."

Next for Ravens

Opponent: Miami Dolphins in AFC wild-card playoff

Site: Pro Player Stadium, Miami

When: Sunday, 4 p.m.

TV/Radio: Chs. 13, 9/WJFK (1300 AM), WQSR (102.7 FM)

Line: Dolphins by 2 1/2

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