Modell inches closer to Super Bowl dream
Updated: Monday January 08, 2001 3:22 PM
By Don Banks, Sports Illustrated and Jon A. Dolezar, CNNSI.com
NASHVILLE -- An Art Modell-led football team is back in the AFC Championship Game for the first time in 11 years, and the venerable Baltimore owner is again one win away from his long-pursued dream of a Super Bowl appearance.
Holding court amid the happy Ravens locker room, Modell couldn't help but recall his track record of near-misses.
"Twenty years ago this week we lost to the Raiders [in the divisional round]," said Modell, of Cleveland's famous Jan. 4, 1981 loss to Oakland at Memorial Stadium. "And now we're going to play the Raiders this week. We lost on a Brian Sipe pass that was intercepted by Mike Davis in the end zone. So there's a little nostalgia there."
Though this is Modell's first playoff run in Baltimore, his Browns made it to the AFC title game in 1986, 1987 and 1989, and lost all three times to Denver. Modell has owned the franchise for 40 years, without ever reaching the Super Bowl.
"In the mid-80s we came up short," he said. "We had horrible losses in '86, '87, '88 and '89. So we've had nothing but heartbreaks. But this is a very pleasurable moment. I must confess I'm very happy." Asked if he was beginning to taste a Super Bowl title, Modell said: "We're two games away. Two games away....Baltimore's on fire about this team. God knows what's happening right now in Baltimore."
Sharpe batted .500 on the day for Ravens
With his one reception for 56 yards, Ravens tight end Shannon Sharpe accounted for all but 78 yards of Baltimore's total offense (134) in the game. That catch set up the Ravens' only offensive touchdown of the game, a 1-yard Jamal Lewis run in the second quarter that tied it 7-7. Baltimore finished with just 85 net yards passing.
But afterward, Sharpe could not get over the key third-and-4 pass that he dropped with 9:21 left in the game, which would have given his Ravens a big first down. Baltimore led 17-10 at the time.
"I should have had two [catches] for 63 [yards]." Sharpe said. "I'm a little disappointed in that. So I'll go home and work on the jugs [machine] because you never know, a catch like that might be something to keep a drive alive. So I made one play and I missed another. I'm 50-50, which is not very good."
But Sharpe at least made the most of his one moment, getting well behind the Titans' secondary to haul in his 56-yard reception.
How'd he do it?
"I'm fast man, I'm fast," Sharpe said. "I'm bad fast. It's speed, man. I'm telling you. I got that Randy Moss speed. OK, maybe not Randy Moss. Maybe Spanish moss."
Thirty years later, a rematch of sortsA Baltimore-Oakland AFC title game isn't a novelty. Thirty years ago, in the AFC's first season, the Baltimore Colts beat the visiting Oakland Raiders 27-17 to advance to Super Bowl V.
Hall of Famers abounded in that game. Johnny Unitas, Ted Hendricks and John Mackey were on the Colts. George Blanda, Fred Biletnikoff, Art Shell and Gene Upshaw were Raiders.
Unitas completed just 11-of-30 passes (shades of Trent Dilfer), but they were good for 245 yards, including a 68-yard game-capping touchdown pass to receiver Ray Perkins (who recently retired to end his NFL coaching career). Blanda finished 17-of-32 for 271 yards, with two scoring passes and two interceptions in the Baltimore end zone.
Dealing with finality
Bruce Matthews started peeling off his tape with more than a minute to go. Titans security directory Steve Berk walked the sidelines giving the crowd the thumbs up, thanking them for their efforts in making Adelphia Coliseum such a tough place to play -- for the other teams in the league at least. Less than two minutes later, it was all over.
Eddie George walked off the field fighting back tears; Steve McNair limped off the field with a scowl on his face; Derrick Mason ran along the wall of the North end zone slapping five with fans in the front row and thanking them for their support; Jevon Kearse walked off the field tugging at his red gloves with his teeth to take them off for a final time. Yes, the defending AFC champs are done playing football this season, and could only reflect back on an exciting regular season and wonder what might've been if an opponent other than Baltimore had been in Nashville this weekend.
"It's crazy in this league," Titans tight end Wycheck said. "Especially after last year. All of a sudden it ends. It comes to a complete stop. It's very bewildering to know that you aren't going to go on, especially after the run we had last year. It's disheartening. Every guy in this locker room has a nasty feeling in their stomach right now. It's going to take a long time to get over it."
Super dreams turned into Super disappointment for Tennessee, and the Titans will have eight months to dissect the Ravens' game film in an effort to find a way to get a leg up on their AFC Central rivals next season.
"I think we are disappointed," Mason said. "With anything less than the Super Bowl, we were going to be disappointed. They are a good team. You have to take your hat off to them. They did an excellent job of sticking to their game plan and being disciplined. I just wish them the best of luck."
Looking out for No. 1
Lost in their 14-point loss was the Titans' tremendous defensive effort against the Ravens. Billed as a battle of the league's top two defenses, Baltimore and Tennessee didn't disappoint. The Titans finished the regular season ranked first in fewest yards allowed, while the Ravens topped the charts in points against, setting a league record by surrendering just 165 points this season.
Titans linebacker Randall Godfrey racked up a team-high nine tackles and added a sack of Trent Dilfer early in the third quarter that Tennessee flying high coming out of the locker room.
The Ravens were limited to 2.1 yards per carry, and Ravens running back Jamal Lewis gained only 47 yards on 17 carries.
"I think we did a good job of stopping him," Godfrey said. "He broke a couple, but other than that we did a pretty good job on defense."
"We did a good job," Titans defensive end Jevon Kearse said. "We didn't let Lewis get going, we got some good hits on Dilfer. He has a tendency not to be so good in big games like this. We did our part. We have to try to regroup and come back and try it again."
Ravens quarterback Trent Dilfer completed only 5-of-16 for 117 yards, but his 31.3 percent completion rate was enough with Baltimore getting 14 points from its defense and special teams.
"What more can you ask out of your defense?" Titans head coach Jeff Fisher said. "Our defense played as well as I've seen them play. The positive is this defense is going to be back. They will be better."
Lonely at the top
Tennessee became ninth AFC top seed in the last 10 years to fail to win the Super Bowl. Only the 1998 Denver Broncos' win in Super Bowl XXXIII saved the AFC's top team from the regular season from bowing out without receiving the Vince Lombardi Trophy for 10 years in a row.
The Titans became the fourth team in that span to lose in the AFC Divisional playoff game, while three other times the AFC's top seed went on to lose in the Super Bowl, all of those by the Buffalo Bills.
"It's going to be a lot of motivation," Kearse said. "We lost at home -- a place that we aren't accustomed to losing at. For a team like that to run their mouths all week to come in and do it gives us more incentive and is really something to look forward to for the following season."
Dilfer dimensionsTrent Dilfer once again put up some lackluster numbers Sunday for the Baltimore Ravens.
Once again, the Ravens emerged with a victory.
Dilfer completed only five of 16 passes for 117 yards against the Tennessee Titans, statistics not normally associated with a winning performance.
Yet he didn't commit a turnover, no small accomplishment against the top-ranked defense in the NFL, and Baltimore advanced to the AFC championship game with a 24-10 victory.
"I've found the best way to not turn the ball over is to not think about it," Dilfer said. "Our stats have been ugly offensively, but this is a talented group of guys. We are playing a certain type of football."
Winning football, that is. The Ravens have won nine in a row under Dilfer, who took over for Tony Banks in midseason and now is just one win away from returning to Tampa Bay, the site of the 2001 Super Bowl and the place where he began his career.
Dilfer has thrown for a mere 247 yards in the last two weeks, but he has yet to be intercepted in the Ravens' two playoff games. He came up with essentially one big play Sunday, a 56-yard completion to Shannon Sharpe that set up a touchdown.
"Sometimes, it only takes one," Dilfer said. "We have the greatest defense that ever lived, in my opinion. And if you're smart, you play to your strengths."
"It was just a good scheme," Coleman said. "Terry Killens shoots left, I shoot right and one of us should come scot-free. It just happened to be me on both punts."
Coleman said the same block was called on each play.
"By the third time, they had corrected it. I just wish we could have gotten a lot of points off them," he said.
Al Del Greco missed a 45-yard field goal attempt after the first block, then botched a 31-yarder after Coleman's second big play.
The last time the franchise had a blocked punt in a playoff game was on Dec. 31, 1989, when Bubba McDowell blocked a kick against Pittsburgh.
Talking the talk
The Ravens were criticized by some for being too brash in the days leading up to the game, yet they backed up their talk with a victory.
But head coach Brian Billick was furious with the Titans, who before the game showed several of his pep talks on the scoreboard. In those scenes, Billick spoke confidently about again defeating Tennessee at Adelphia Coliseum.
Showing those scenes, he said, was "shameless" and "totally classless."
Billick defended the Ravens' bravado, saying, "When you go into the lion's den, you don't tippy-toe in. You carry a spear. You go in screaming like a banshee. If you go in any other way, you're going to lose."
The Ravens' nine-game winning streak is the longest in the NFL this season. They came into Sunday's game tied with the Titans, who won eight in a row from Sept. 10-Nov. 5. ... The Ravens have won five consecutive road games and 19 of 24 overall. ... Titans running back Eddie George tied the franchise record for rushing touchdowns with his first TD of the game, matching Earl Campbell. The Titans now are 23-2 when George rushes at least 27 times in a game. ... Baltimore, which led the NFL in turnover margin, got the only turnover of the game. ... It was only the third time in 18 games that the Ravens have given up a touchdown on the opening drive. ... The Ravens lost linebacker Cornell Brown in the first quarter to an injured hamstring.
Statistic of the dayThe curse of the AFC's top seed continues. With Tennessee's loss, the 1998 Denver Broncos remain the only No. 1 seed in the AFC that has reached the Super Bowl since the league went to the 12-team playoff format in 1990. The Broncos won the Super Bowl that season, for their second consecutive league title. Baltimore (14-4) is the AFC's No. 4 seed.
Quote of the dayFrom Modell, on his team's bold talk last week: "I thought it was too bold frankly. There was too much talk. I've got news for you. I promise you there won't be that much talk this week."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.