Ravens' run to repeat derailed in Pittsburgh

World champions go out with a thud

Steelers 27, Ravens 10

January 21, 2002|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,SUN STAFF

PITTSBURGH - The Ravens and their fans dreamed of ending the season near the Mississippi River, in Super Bowl XXXVI at the New Orleans Superdome.

Instead, Baltimore saw its reign as pro football's world champion run aground on the banks of the Ohio.

Pittsburgh's statistical domination of the Ravens in the regular season was no fluke, as the Steelers did it again in the AFC divisional playoffs yesterday before 63,976 at Heinz Field. The 27-10 loss wasn't that close; the Ravens fell behind 20-0 in the second quarter and exited not with a bang but a whimper, with just 150 yards of total offense.

"I am very disappointed in the performance that the Baltimore Ravens showed today," tight end Shannon Sharpe said.

Sharpe earned a third Super Bowl ring last January, when the Ravens rolled through the playoffs to bring Baltimore its first pro football title since the Colts ruled in 1971. The Ravens had never lost here under coach Brian Billick and were further buoyed by last week's wild-card rout of Miami, but it was AFC Central rival Pittsburgh that looked extremely capable of keeping the Vince Lombardi Trophy in the division.

How outclassed were the Ravens?

When Amos Zereoue scored what proved to be the winning points on a 1-yard touchdown run that made it 17-0 with 5:43 remaining in the first half, the upper deck was shaking and the Steelers had outgained the Ravens, 163 yards to 13. Baltimore's anemic offense didn't have a first down in the first and third quarters, and didn't convert a third down until the 54th minute.

Jermaine Lewis scored the Ravens' only touchdown on an 88-yard punt return midway through the third quarter. As the fourth quarter opened, the Steelers completed an 83-yard scoring drive that sent to the exits most Baltimore fans, who had been engulfed in a sea of black and gold.

They expected more.

Pittsburgh had outplayed Baltimore in a win at PSINet Stadium last month, but the Ravens were the only visitor to win in the inaugural season at Heinz Field, posting a 13-10 victory here Nov. 4. An adverse reaction to a pain-killing injection kept Steelers star running back Jerome Bettis on the sidelines, but it was the Ravens who stumbled out of the blocks.

Under pressure on the game's third play, quarterback Elvis Grbac was intercepted, the first of four turnovers by the Ravens, whose signature during their drive to Super Bowl XXXV had been mistake-free football.

The Ravens followed their few breaks with blunders. Chris McAlister's interception set up the offense at Pittsburgh's 7-yard line, but Grbac threw his second interception two plays later. When Grbac found his target, the pass was often dropped.

"We made too many mistakes," said Grbac, the free-agent acquisition who replaced Trent Dilfer and struggled to win over Ravens fans. "We got in a hole that we couldn't get out of."

If the Ravens had been able to notch their fourth-straight playoff road win, they would have gone to New England for this Sunday's AFC championship game. Instead, the Patriots will come here to challenge the Steelers, and the Ravens will set about shoring up a roster that is expected to lose several key veterans. Defensive tackle Tony Siragusa is retiring, and Sharpe may do the same.

"I don't want to cry and say we should have won," Siragusa said. "We shouldn't have won today. We gave up too many big plays, too many points and didn't do much offensively. The rest is history."

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