Ravens' road eerily familiar

Like Titans, Steelers have top seed, defense, but also a home loss

Even missed kicks same

Champs seek repeat at Heinz

`We have the experience of winning'

Ravens - Steelers

Afc Divisional Playoff

January 15, 2002|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

The Ravens' playoff run has suddenly become a rerun.

To advance to the AFC championship game, the Ravens need to upset the top-seeded, Central Division champion on the road.

Sound strangely familiar?

Last season, the Ravens were the first visiting team to win at Adelphia Coliseum, beating Tennessee in the regular season when Titans kicker Al Del Greco missed a 43-yard field-goal attempt wide right as the game ended. In the second round of the playoffs, the Ravens moved on to the AFC championship game by defeating the Central Division champion again at Adelphia.

This season, the Ravens were the first visitors to triumph at Heinz Field, edging Pittsburgh in the regular season, 13-10, when Steelers kicker Kris Brown missed a 35-yarder wide right with 14 seconds left. Now, with the second round upon them again, the Ravens face familiar circumstances.

Sunday's trip to division champion Pittsburgh may feel like a stroll down memory lane.

"It really is a similar scenario," Ravens center Mike Flynn said. "We know what it's like to go on the road to a hostile environment against the best team in your conference. That's where it helps us out a lot.

"Having won there and having won in the playoffs on the road, we don't have any doubt that if we play, we can win. We have the experience of winning. It doesn't help you win the game, but it gets doubt out of your mind."

The reminiscent story line doesn't end there.

A year ago, the Ravens delivered a 21-3 win over Denver in the first round of the playoffs. On Sunday, they hammered out a 20-3 victory over Miami in the opening round.

Last season, the Ravens finished with the league's No. 2 defense behind Tennessee. This season, the Ravens' defense was second only to Pittsburgh.

The players started talking about these eerie similarities as the buses left Miami's Pro Player Stadium on Sunday night.

"It's the same thing with Tennessee last year," Ravens cornerback Chris McAlister said. "It doesn't matter where your defense finishes in the regular season, this thing has started over. The Steelers have been sitting around watching us play and I don't know what their thoughts are right now. We know where our head is and what we're going in to do."

But there is at least one major difference between the Steelers and the Titans: Pittsburgh doesn't back down to the Ravens in trash talking.

Picking up from last month's verbal exchange, Steelers safety Lee Flowers struck first.

"I think Baltimore tried to out-talk us last time and you see the results," said Flowers, referring to the 26-21 win over the Ravens on Dec. 16 at PSINet Stadium. "For whatever they have to say about us, let's show up on Sunday."

Flowers made it clear where the teams stand.

"Both teams dislike each other," Flowers said. "We both know each other very well, and it's hatred. I mean, their linebackers can't stand Jerome [Bettis] and our linebackers can't stand none of them. It's getting to the point now where it doesn't matter how much I talk, it doesn't matter how much Shannon [Sharpe] talks, it doesn't matter how much Ray [Lewis] talks, it doesn't matter how much Coach [Bill] Cowher or [Brian] Billick talks, or whatever his name is. We're focused right now."

Does Flowers expect a response from the Ravens tomorrow when the players resume practice?

"Hopefully, I'll see something come out of Baltimore and we'll take it from there," Flowers said. "I'm in need of a good laugh right now."

The Ravens' locker room was extremely loose yesterday but also unusually quiet toward Pittsburgh.

This is the same team that once referred to Steelers receiver Plaxico Burress as "Plexiglas" and said Bettis must have had a concussion when he compared Cincinnati linebacker Takeo Spikes to Lewis.

"I don't think it's going to be too silent later this week," McAlister said. "It's going to get heated before you know it. It's just the way we are. We invite conflict, period. We need conflict to make us who we are. We don't necessarily go out and down-talk our opponent, but we're just going to say what we feel."

Said Sharpe: "I'm not going to say it's going to be quiet on our end. Whether we say a little or a lot, we still have to play on Sunday. We might as well have some fun with it leading up to the game. But there's a lot of respect for Pittsburgh."

While the similarities haven't escaped the defending Super Bowl champions this week, the Ravens are not banking on fate to help them into the AFC championship game.

"I think you control your own destiny," Sharpe said. "But already winning in Pittsburgh, we have a lot of confidence and we feel that we can beat them again."

Next for Ravens

Opponent: Pittsburgh Steelers in AFC divisional playoff game

Site: Heinz Field, Pittsburgh

When: Sunday, 12:30 p.m.

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

Line: Steelers by 5

Other divisional games Saturday

NFC: Philadelphia at Chicago, 4:30 p.m., chs. 45, 5

AFC: Oakland at New England, 8 p.m., chs. 13, 9 Sunday

NFC: Green Bay at St. Louis, 4 p.m., chs. 45, 5

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