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Ravens enjoying wild ride

Pittsburgh is next stop on playoff run

By Barry Wilner
Associated Press / January 12, 2009
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NASHVILLE - The Baltimore Ravens are rolling down a familiar road. It's a route they once took to a Super Bowl title. They expect it to lead to the same place.

In January 2001, the Ravens stuffed their wild-card playoff berth down the throats of four opponents to win their only NFL crown. One of the teams they beat was Tennessee.

On Saturday, the Ravens eliminated the Titans, the AFC's top seed, 13-10. That followed a 27-9 victory over Miami in the wild-card round.

Next up is another division winner - the Pittsburgh Steelers, who beat Baltimore twice this season to take the AFC North.

"It's great to make our own history, our own path," linebacker Bart Scott said. "That team was great. We can't be compared to that team. That team had its own identity, and we're trying to create our own."

To a man, the Ravens (13-5) believe they'll have that identity after a successful trip to Tampa, the same place they beat the Giants in Super Bowl XXXV.

The leader of that team was Ray Lewis. He still is: an All-Pro with viable Hall of Fame credentials and a mean streak that epitomizes the Ravens.

"We always have got one philosophy to this defense," Lewis said after Baltimore forced three turnovers and a slew of other blunders by the Titans. "If they don't score, they don't win.

"I was here in 2000. It was physical then. Both ball clubs are built kind of similar. That is why the game came down to what it was. We knew that coming into the game."

What these Ravens have more of than the previous title team is balance. Led by 40-year-old Matt Stover, who made the 43-yard winning field goal with 53 seconds left Saturday, their special teams, are, well, special. Punter Sam Koch also excels, and the coverage units are solid.

And unlike in 2000, these Ravens have a more varied offense. Baltimore has a rookie quarterback in Joe Flacco who doesn't get rattled. The Ravens of eight seasons ago had a journeyman, Trent Dilfer, who was a game manager.

Flacco is unflappable. Twice on Saturday, he was faced with difficult situations and came through.

The Ravens led, 10-7, when they recovered Tennessee tight end Alge Crumpler's fumble at their 1. On third down, Flacco retreated to throw and came dangerously close to stepping on the back line for a safety. As the crowd at LP Field howled, he threw an incompletion.

No flag.

"I think my foot wrapped around and came back inbounds," Flacco said. "I almost pulled a Dan Orlovsky."

Orlovsky, the Lions quarterback, stepped well out of the back of the end zone in a game this season.

"I wasn't out because they didn't call it," Flacco added.

And on a third-and-2 at the Baltimore 32 with 2:51 to go, Flacco completed a 23-yard pass to Todd Heap even though the scoreboard showed zero on the play clock. Again, the crowd screamed.

"The back judge is responsible for that," referee Terry McAulay said. "He has the clock. When it hits zero . . . he goes to the ball. So there is going to be a natural delay from zero to getting to the ball. And when he gets to the ball, if it is being snapped, we don't call it."

Not that the Ravens simply were fortunate to win and advance. They had no turnovers, made several big plays on offense, and their defense was dynamic.

"It's about playing a physical football game and causing turnovers," said safety Ed Reed, the only unanimous choice for the All-Pro team. "In crunch time like this, ball security is huge on either side of the ball. It just bounced our way."

In crunch time, it often does.

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