Super Bowl XXXV
Baltimore, New York headed to Tampa for title tilt
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) -- It's a Giants-Ravens Super Bowl in 2001, after New York hammered Minnesota to take the NFC crown and Baltimore's defense held off Oakland for the AFC championship.
Giants quarterback Kerry Collins had a career-high five touchdown passes, sending New York to its first Super Bowl in a decade with a 41-0 romp Sunday past the hapless Minnesota Vikings -- the biggest rout in NFL championship history.
In Oakland, Ray Lewis, Jamie Sharper and Duane Starks shut down the Raiders, bringing the Ravens a 16-3 win.
While Collins was tying a playoff (not counting the Super Bowl) TD passing record set in 1943 by Sid Luckman, his teammates were having their way with an opponent that actually was favored. The Vikings, who rarely do well outdoors, were 2-point choices.
Minnesota instead became the first NFC championship shutout victim since the Giants beat Washington 17-0 en route to winning the Super Bowl following the 1986 season. It was the Vikings' first shutout loss since Dennis Green became head coach in 1992.
It was seventh consecutive victory for the Giants since head coach Jim Fassel promised the team would make the playoffs.
Collins, whose career was revived when he joined the Giants in 1999 following controversial stops in Carolina and New Orleans and bouts with alcoholism, was remarkable from the outset.
He threw for four touchdowns and 338 yards in the first half, then added a fifth TD pass just 2:54 into the third period. He finished 28-for-39 for 381 yards and waved to the crowd from the sideline when his stats were announced.
With Collins and receivers Ike Hilliard (10 catches, 155 yards) and Amani Toomer (six for 81) dominating, Minnesota's fearsome trio of Daunte Culpepper, Randy Moss and Cris Carter was rendered invisible by New York's stingy defense.
Culpepper was held to 78 yards passing and threw three interceptions. Moss had two receptions for 18 yards; Carter had three for 24.
Collins had the Giants (14-4) up 14-0 before some in the blue-clad, towel-waving crowd had settled into their seats.
By halftime, it was 34-0, the largest such margin in NFC Championship Game history. And the Giants kept rolling, right into the NFL's title game in Tampa -- the site of their 1990 championship win.
The Giants, hardly known for a fast-break offense, struck so suddenly that they looked like, well, the Vikings. Just 2:13 into the game, they led 14-0.
Collins probably could have thrown left-handed and still hit his wide-open receivers on the opening drive. Operating against Minnesota's injury-depleted secondary -- cornerbacks Orlando Thomas and Kenny Wright were sidelined -- he hit three straight passes, with Hilliard speeding past Keith Thibodeaux on a fly pattern for the 46-yard touchdown at 1:57.
When the Vikings (12-6) misplayed the ensuing kickoff, Lyle West recovered for New York. On the next play, Greg Comella sneaked down the right sideline for his first career touchdown, an 18-yard pass from Collins.
Although Collins was picked off twice in the first quarter, it mattered little. Minnesota, which looked so efficient in last week's playoff victory over New Orleans, had returned to the sputtering form that marked its three-game losing streak to finish the season.
This game probably ended four minutes into the second quarter -- even though it was still scoreless.
Facing a third-and-18 at his own 4-yard line with the rowdy Raiders crowd screaming in his ear, Trent Dilfer found Shannon Sharpe on a short slant inside safety Marquez Pope.
Sharpe raced past the rest of the secondary and headed for the end zone with teammate Patrick Johnson behind him, half pushing him over the goal line to finish the longest pass play in postseason history.
"We just find a way," Dilfer said. "Shannon told me before the game, he said, 'Trent, look me in the eyes. I promise you I will make you some plays [Sunday].' And I looked at him and said, 'I know you will.' And sure enough he did."
A few minutes later, Tony Siragusa knocked Oakland quarterback Rich Gannon to the ground on his throwing shoulder, finishing him for the half.
Gannon returned in the second half, but was ineffective and was lifted again for Bobby Hoying.
No matter. The Baltimore defense was just too good, holding the Raiders to just 83 yards of offense in the first three quarters before it loosened up in the final quarter. Matt Stover had field goals of 31, 28 and 29 yards.
Starks, meanwhile, had two interceptions, Sharper had two sacks and an interception and Lewis was all over the field as usual for a defense that set an NFL record this season by allowing just 165 points in 16 games, 20 points fewer than the 1985 Chicago Bears.
The dominating defense was at its best in the third quarter, after Johnnie Harris intercepted deep in Baltimore territory. With the help of a roughing-the-passer penalty on Mike McCrary, the Raiders reached the Baltimore 2.
But Tyrone Wheatley lost a yard on first down, Sharper sacked Gannon on second down and a third-down pass was behind Randy Jordan, forcing the Raiders to settle for a 24-yard field goal by Sebastian Janikowski.
An apparent touchdown pass to Oakland's Andre Rison with 4 1/2 minutes left to play was nullified by pass interference on Rison.
One major beneficiary of the victory is Art Modell, who has owned this franchise since 1960 but had never been to the Super Bowl.
It's also likely to put a huge spotlight on Lewis, the NFL's defensive player of the year.
Lewis was arrested after the Super Bowl in Atlanta last year and charged with murder in the stabbing of two men outside a night club. He eventually pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice and got probation.
"For me to go the Super Bowl now is a great thing," Lewis said.
The Ravens dominated from the start, but couldn't capitalize on great field position.
Late in the first period, Robert Bailey intercepted Gannon at the Oakland 19. But the Ravens gained just one yard in three plays and Stover's field-goal attempt from 36 yards hit the right upright.
Then Oakland got the field position on a 56-yard punt by Shane Lechler and had the Ravens facing third-and-18 on their own 4. But Dilfer hit Sharpe on a short slant just inside Pope, and Sharpe was suddenly clear.
Gannon was knocked out on the next series. Hoying's first pass was intercepted by Starks, setting up Stover's 31-yard field goal.
The offense did its bit for Baltimore in the third quarter.
After Janikowski's field goal, the Ravens came right back, driving 51 yards to set up a 29-yard kick by Stover that gave them a 10-point lead again.