Broncos depleted in bid to buck a losing trend

Injury-riddled Denver has lost past 3 meetings


October 26, 2003|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

As the Denver Broncos deal with their quarterback crisis, the Ravens are looking to extend a three-year blitz on their AFC foes.

This lopsided series - which resumes today at M&T Bank Stadium - has featured the Ravens inflicting as many emotional scars as physical ones, which is a bad omen for a Broncos team carrying one healthy passer.

The Ravens knocked Denver out of the playoffs, served up the Broncos' first loss at Invesco Field and embarrassed them on Monday Night Football. They have kicked Denver with defense in 2000, with a fourth-quarter comeback in 2001 and with a historic special teams play in 2002.

The fact that the Ravens' dominance over Denver is beginning to soar a mile high can get under a team's skin as well as under its helmet.

"I think it gets into a team's head because we match up very well with Denver," linebacker Ray Lewis said. "I think anytime you have beaten them the past three years, you have that edge."

That edge may be physical as well as mental.

Denver third-string quarterback Danny Kanell was recovering yesterday after coming down with the flu Friday, but the journeyman is still expected to start for the first time in nearly three years.

The Broncos' backup quarterback today is Jarious Jackson, who re-signed with the club only four days ago. The emergency quarterback is Rod Smith, one of the team's only three healthy receivers.

The Broncos (5-2) have had to delve so low on their depth chart because their top two quarterbacks, Jake Plummer (foot) and Steve Beuerlein (finger), went down with injuries this month.

Denver's situation makes the mildly sprained left (non-throwing) shoulder of Ravens rookie quarterback Kyle Boller seem trivial.

When asked if Murphy's law had found its way into the Broncos' huddle, Denver coach Mike Shanahan said, "I don't believe in that."

Relying on a certain psyche has helped the Ravens' dominance of Denver.

Broncos tight end Shannon Sharpe, who has been on the winning and losing sides of this series, said the games are a reflection of what Ravens coach Brian Billick instills in his players.

"When I was with the Ravens, we thought that we could be more physical than the Broncos could," Sharpe said. "That's what Brian teaches. Once you hit them in the mouth, they are going to react a certain way. I'm sure that Brian is still preaching that same thing."

Former Broncos and Ravens defensive tackle Lional Dalton agreed with Sharpe, saying after last season's Monday night game, "Brian Billick has Mike Shanahan's number. He owns him."

However, these reigns usually end. Coming off a disappointing loss in Cincinnati, the Ravens (3-3) know how an aura of authority can work against a team.

"It may get into the other team's head where they're ready to go and they're not going to come in and back down," said Ravens running back Jamal Lewis, who needs 157 rushing yards to become just the fourth player in NFL history to reach 1,000 in the first seven games of a season.

"You have to go out and attack them. You can't buy into that. We beat the Cincinnati Bengals a lot and you see what happens."

Surprising feats have been the theme with the Ravens and Broncos.

In the Ravens' playoff win in January 2001, Sharpe pulled in a twice-deflected pass from Trent Dilfer and ran 58 yards for the key touchdown.

The next season, a struggling Elvis Grbac led a fourth-quarter rally, zipping a 3-yard, game-winning touchdown pass to a covered Travis Taylor with 8:51 left in the game.

Then, on a Monday night last year, the winless Ravens upset the undefeated Broncos with a 31-point second quarter that was capped by Chris McAlister's record-setting 107-yard return of a missed field-goal attempt.

"If we have one of those tipped, fumble-rooskie 102-yard touchdown runs, we'll take them," Ravens left guard Edwin Mulitalo said.

The Ravens, though, can't take anything for granted.

Their AFC North lead is a half game over the Cleveland Browns and one game over the Cincinnati Bengals and Pittsburgh Steelers. After next Sunday's game against Jacksonville, the Ravens face three playoff-caliber teams in three weeks: the St. Louis Rams, Miami Dolphins and Seattle Seahawks.

"Whenever you're at .500, it's almost like you're at zero again," Mulitalo said. "So to get back on top is a must for us."

Ravens today

Matchup: Denver Broncos (5-2) vs. Ravens (3-3)

Site: M&T Bank Stadium

Time: 1 p.m.

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

Line: Ravens by 2Inside

Scouting report, rosters, statistics and more. [Page 13e]

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