Champs roll in playoff opener

Baltimore wins on familiar formula

Pittsburgh is up next

January 14, 2002|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,SUN STAFF

MIAMI - It's on to Pittsburgh for the Ravens' road show.

The Ravens were the only one of the four visitors to survive the National Football League's wild-card weekend, as the defending Super Bowl champions handled Miami, 20-3, yesterday. The Ravens will trade South Florida's balmy weather and chilly fan response for the frenzy of Heinz Field, where they will attempt to run their winning streak in Pittsburgh to four straight in Sunday's 12:30 p.m. AFC divisional playoff game against the Steelers.

While the Dolphins were physically banged up and emotionally depressed by the fact that the game at Pro Player Stadium did not sell out until yesterday, the Steelers will be well-rested and their boisterous fans primed for the rubber match with the Ravens.

A 26-21 victory at PSINet Stadium Dec. 16 helped Pittsburgh lock up the top seed among the six AFC teams in the playoffs, but the fifth-seeded Ravens have made a mockery of the home-field advantage under coach Brian Billick.

Baltimore's 13-10 win in Pittsburgh Nov. 4 made them the only visitors to win at Heinz Field, which opened this season. Last year, the underdog Ravens won playoff games at Tennessee and Oakland. If they can defeat the Steelers again, they would advance to the AFC championship game, at either New England or Oakland, and continue their quest to become the first team in NFL history to win the Super Bowl after three playoff victories on the road.

"We like being the underdog," defensive tackle Tony Siragusa said. "We like it when people tell us how bad we are. We go out on Sunday, and we love proving people wrong."

Siragusa has announced that this season will be his last in pro football, and the next game could also be the last with Baltimore for other veterans, such as tight end Shannon Sharpe and defensive end Rob Burnett.

Yesterday, the Ravens revisited the formula that made them world champions last season.

Middle linebacker Ray Lewis and the defense that set an NFL record for fewest points allowed in 2000 were as tough as ever. The Dolphins' only points came on a short field goal in the third minute, after Jermaine Lewis fumbled away the opening kickoff. Miami never got closer to the end zone than Baltimore's 42-yard line the rest of the way, and its longest drive netted 28 yards.

The Ravens' offense, which had sputtered all season after running back Jamal Lewis suffered a season-ending knee injury in training camp, put together two impressive drives and got a turnover-free game from the suddenly steady hand of quarterback Elvis Grbac, who had been erratic in several losses this season. Grbac directed a 17-play, 90-yard drive in the first half that was the Ravens' longest of the season, but they topped that in the third quarter with a drive that began at their 1.

That 99-yarder ended with Grbac flipping a 4-yard touchdown pass to Travis Taylor, whose first reception of the game was a dramatic 45-yarder moments earlier. Terry Allen, whose 109 yards helped Baltimore pile up 226 yards on the ground, had put the Ravens ahead for good at 7-3 with a 4-yard run with 13:34 left in the first half.

Both drives deflated the Dolphins and their fans, who had predicted an early demise for the Ravens. One poster at Pro Player Stadium read, "From Super Bowl Champs to Playoff Chumps," but the Ravens were clearly the superior team. However, the players say the task will be tougher Sunday in Pittsburgh.

"This is Round 3," said Lewis, the All-Pro linebacker who predicted a brutally physical game. "They won one, we won one. They [the Steelers] know what type of game it's going to be."

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