Wrong route turns into game-breaking play for Ravens
Updated: Sunday December 31, 2000 8:04 PM
BALTIMORE (AP) -- Someday, when Shannon Sharpe tells his grandkids about his 58-yard touchdown catch Sunday, he may not mention that he ran the wrong route into the right play in Baltimore's 21-3 wild-card victory against Denver.
Sharpe pulled a twice-deflected pass out of the air and took it down the sideline for his third career playoff touchdown. The first two came with the Broncos, whom he spent 10 years with and accompanied to two Super Bowls before signing as a free agent with Baltimore in February.
Sharpe's score gave the Ravens a 14-3 lead in the second quarter. Given the frustration Denver experienced against Baltimore's record-setting defense, the TD was devastating to the Broncos.
"It looked like it was going to be an interception and then all of a sudden it turns into a touchdown," Denver head coach Mike Shanahan said. "You've got to overcome those big plays, and we didn't overcome it."
The play was originally designed as a pass to running back Jamal Lewis. But he bobbled Trent Dilfer's throw, which glanced off the arms of Denver cornerback Terrell Buckley before it was snared by Sharpe, who followed key blocks by Sam Gash and Patrick Johnson into the end zone.
"It was a situation where I was in the wrong place at the right time. I got under Jamal's route," Sharpe said. "Jamal's favorite candy bar is Butterfingers, and he showed it today."
Said Lewis: "It was kind of cold out there to be catching the ball. I kind of bobbled it and he saved me. I think he had a little wind behind him, but it took it for a touchdown."
The freak play provided the Ravens the impetus for their first playoff win in the five-year history of the franchise. Before this season, Baltimore (13-4) had never had a winning season and had experienced very little in the way of good fortune.
"Isn't it great? I remember in the past couple of years those big plays were always against us," Ravens defensive end Michael McCrary said. "It's great it's finally turned around and we're making those."
Ravens head coach Brian Billick, an offensive whiz whose team has struggled to score points this year, kiddingly talked about the touchdown as if it were part of the playbook.
"You have to get the back to bat it up just right," he joked. "That part's easy enough, but to get the DB to bat it back as well is the really hard part."
For the Broncos, it wasn't so funny.
"It's just one of those plays where luck was on their side," Broncos linebacker Al Wilson said. "Shannon was in the right place at the right time. We had great coverage on the receiver. It was like the ball bounced off the defender and bounced right into Shannon's hand. It was unexpected for the defense, and he took it to the house."
Making a big play against his former team was in no way perceived as vengeance by Sharpe, who all week said only nice things about the organization that drafted the tight end out of Savannah State in the seventh round of the 1990 draft.
"It was just a normal game and I approached it like that. That's why I'm so calm now," Sharpe said. "I have nothing bad to say about those guys. I really appreciate the 10 years I had over there. I still have so many friends over there."
Sharpe even cut back on his nonstop banter, which usually starts at the opening kickoff and doesn't end until he's walking off the field.
"We were still talking, but it wasn't the trash talking I would normally do, because I have so much respect, so much love, for those guys," he said.
Long after the game, someone asked Sharpe if this is the same Denver team that won successive Super Bowls in 1997 and 1998.
"They're minus [John] Elway, minus a healthy Terrell Davis," he said.
And without Shannon Sharpe, the team's career leader in yards receiving. The Ravens signed him in part because of his playoff experience and leadership qualities, but on this day his hands were as important as his mouth.