— The Baltimore Ravens delivered an emphatic message to the Denver Broncos and the rest of the NFL today: We are for real.
The Ravens shut down the league’s second-ranked offense and got a bizarre touchdown from former Broncos tight end Shannon Sharpe in a 21-3 wild-card rout of Denver. The Broncos were held without a touchdown for the first time in 28 postseason games over a span of three decades.
“We were like a pack of deer being chased by wolves,” Ravens defensive tackle Tony Siragusa said after they held the Broncos to 177 yards, 233 below their average.
Baltimore, in its first playoff game in 23 years, had five sacks and held rookie Mike Anderson, who gained 1,500 yards rushing this season, to 40 on 15 carries.
“I didn’t really believe they ever saw a defense like ours,” added middle linebacker Ray Lewis, the star of a unit that allowed an NFL-record 165 points and had four regular-season shutouts.
For Baltimore, the long wait for another playoff game was worth it. In winning the first postseason game in this city since 1977, when the Colts lost to Oakland, the Ravens earned a trip to Nashville to play the Tennessee Titans, who edged them for the AFC Central crown.
‘Emotions Were High After 23 Years’
“The emotions were high after 23 years,” Lewis said. “I was 2 the last time there was a playoff game here.”
As for the Titans, whose only loss this season at Adelphia Coliseum was to Baltimore, Lewis added, “We know it is a tournament and that is our mindset. A lot of people said to get to the Super Bowl, you have to go through Tennessee.”
While the Ravens head south, the Broncos head home with their first postseason loss since 1996. They won seven straight on their way to Super Bowl titles in 1997 and ’98, then didn’t make the playoffs last year.
“When you come into a place like this and you make mistakes, it’s hard to overcome it,” said quarterback Gus Frerotte, filling in for injured Brian Griese. “And we made mistakes.”
But it’s questionable whether even John Elway would have mastered the Ravens’ defense and the tricky wind that gusted to 27 mph. Frerotte didn’t complete a pass until his first attempt of the second quarter, and most of his throws were off target. A half-dozen others were dropped, and he finished 13-for 28 for 124 yards.
They also were victimized by Sharpe’s stunner and Jamal Lewis’ big day: 110 yards on 30 carries and two touchdowns.
Sharpe’s Strange Touchdown
Sharpe’s strange touchdown in the second quarter made it 14-3 and effectively ended Denver’s chances. Trent Dilfer’s pass in the flat was bobbled by Lewis, then glanced off the arms of Denver cornerback Terrell Buckley. Sharpe, who spent the first 10 seasons of his outstanding career in Denver, caught the carom and headed to the sideline.
With crushing blocks by Sam Gash and Patrick Johnson freeing the way, he sped 58 yards for the score.
“I was basically getting ready to chase T-Buck,” Sharpe said. “But the ball floated in the air and when I got it, I thought I could get 10 yards. But the end zone kept getting closer and closer.”
Combining such big plays with the dominating defense that forced Denver into seven three-and-outs was enough to keep a PSINet Stadium record crowd of 69,638 in full throat in support of the team owner Art Modell brought to Baltimore from Cleveland in 1996.
“The Modell family was a part of the fabric of society in Cleveland. I didn’t want to leave. I had no choice,” Modell told CBS-TV. Asked if time will heal the wounds, he said, “If I live to 102, maybe. Not completely. There will always be people there that mark me as a man who betrayed the community.”
Beloved in Baltimore
But he is beloved in Baltimore. So, for the moment, is Jamal Lewis, the rookie counterpart to Mike Anderson. One of them is expected to win The Associated Press Offensive Rookie of the Year award, which will be announced Monday.
“That’s an individual award, and I’m into team awards” said Lewis, who rushed for 1,364 yards this season. He scored on a 1-yard dive after his 20-yard dash got Baltimore close to the goal line.
Late in the third quarter, he burst through college roommate Al Wilson’s tackle and a pile of other players for a 27-yard score, making it 21-3.
“This team can go a long ways, just play like we know how to play, just go out and attack other teams,” he said.
Denver, which also was missing star runner Terrell Davis, got its only points on Jason Elam’s 31-yard field goal in the first half.
The Ravens, winners of eight straight, haven’t allowed a 100-yard rusher in 34 games. They had five sacks, three of them by Michael McCrary, and Ray Lewis had an interception.
Now they have a date in Tennessee.