OAKLAND, California (Ticker) -- The Baltimore Ravens say they don't want to be considered a great defense until they win a championship. They are one win away from being considered great.
Using the NFL's stingiest defense to set the tone and a 96-yard touchdown pass from Trent Dilfer to Shannon Sharpe, the Ravens advanced to the Super Bowl for the first time in franchise history with a 16-3 victory over the Oakland Raiders.
In their fifth season since moving from Cleveland, the Ravens (15-4) will meet the New York Giants (14-4) in Super Bowl XXXV on January 28 in Tampa.
"Getting there is special, it's mind-boggling," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "I mean, nobody picked us."
Baltimore also became the third AFC wild card team to advance to the Super Bowl in the last four seasons.
Heading to the Super Bowl has to be sweet for 75-year-old Ravens owner Art Modell, who saw his Cleveland Browns lose to the Denver Broncos in all three of their AFC championship game appearances in 1986, 1987 and 1989.
The Ravens' defense, which set an NFL record for fewest points allowed in a 16-game season with 165, came up big in its biggest game.
Baltimore forced five turnovers and knocked out Raiders quarterback Rich Gannon for most of the second quarter with a shoulder injury. Gannon returned after halftime but was ineffective, throwing a pair of interceptions and losing a fumble. He was replaced by Bobby Hoying in the fourth quarter.
"Our defense controlled the game. We just took it out of their hands and rode it for all we could get," said Ravens cornerback Duane Starks, who had two interceptions.
"Our defense should get credit for controlling the game. It's our mentality," Billick added.
The Ravens also got a huge play from their offense early in the second quarter, when Dilfer hit Sharpe with a quick slant that the veteran tight end turned into a 96-yard TD -- the longest scoring pass in postseason history. It gave Baltimore a 7-0 lead.
Things got worse for Oakland on its ensuing possession when 340-pound defensive tackle Tony Siragusa drove Gannon's left shoulder into the turf.
It was another forgettable AFC title game for the Raiders (13-5), who were routed by Buffalo, 51-3, in January 1991 in their last championship game appearance.
"They are an outstanding team. What can I say about their football scheme?" Raiders coach Jon Gruden said. "They have a combination of outstanding players, a great plan and relentless pursuit for defense."
Matched against the NFL's No. 1 rushing offense, the Ravens totally eliminated that element from Oakland's arsenal.
Crowding the line of scrimmage and playing man-to-man on the outside, Baltimore limited the Raiders to 24 rushing yards. Tyrone Wheatley finished with seven yards on 12 carries.
Oakland entered the contest averaging 154.4 yards per game on the ground. The Ravens were the NFL's best team against the run, allowing 60.6 yards per game.
It was the defense that got things going for Baltimore, which held the Raiders without a first down and limited them to six total yards in the opening quarter.
The Ravens had their own offensive problems early on, moving into Oakland territory four times in the first quarter, only to come up empty on occasion. Matt Stover had a chance to put Baltimore on top but hit the right upright on a 36-yard field-goal attempt with 3:34 left in the quarter.
Any problems Baltimore had on offense quickly were put to rest early in the second quarter.
Facing 3rd-and-18 from his own 4, Dilfer fired a strike to Sharpe, who hauled in the ball on the 12 and raced untouched down the field, giving Baltimore all the offense it needed. Raiders safety Marquez Pope was caught out of position on the play.
"During practice, we thought Shannon was going to be trouble for Pope," Dilfer said. "I wanted to wait for it. I wanted to wait for that matchup. I kept saying to anyone that was listening that while I was waiting for that matchup, I wasn't going to do anything stupid."
"We thought all along that if we got seven points first, we would control the game, and we got what we wanted," Sharpe added.
Billick credited Dilfer's patience for the big play.
"Shannon came over and I told him, 'Don't get carried away, you're not a fast runner, just get the ball.' It wasn't that he developed speed, but it was an angle thing," Billick said. "Trent did a good job of picking him up and waiting for his moment."
Dilfer had credited his mechanic with providing extra motivation for this game.
"I grew up in Fresno where there are a lot of Raider fans, and during our off week I went home and I went to get my car fixed," he explained. "The mechanic and I were talking and he told me that he thought it was going to be the Raiders and Ravens in the championship game this year and the Raiders we're going to kick our butts. I thought about it all week, what the mechanic said to me."
Raiders cornerback Charles Woodson was upset the long play ever occurred.
"We let a guy run 90-plus yards for a TD. That was ridiculous on the defensive part," Woodson said. "Once they got the lead, they turned the game over to their offense and their defense held up to their reputation."
A target of critics throughout his career, Dilfer completed 9-of-18 passes for 190 yards with a touchdown and an interception. He improved to 10-1 as the club's starting quarterback, including the playoffs, since taking over for Tony Banks.
The trip to Tampa for the Super Bowl will be even sweeter for Dilfer, a former first-round pick who spent his first six seasons with the Buccaneers. He was not re-signed after last season and landed with the Ravens.
"I assume that I'm going to be a hated man in Tampa, but a big part of me is still there," Dilfer said. "I have lots of friends and close relations with lots of people."
It did not take long for things to get worse for Oakland. Siragusa busted through the line and drilled Gannon, the Raiders' best offensive player, forcing him to miss the final 11 minutes of the half.
"I just sacked him. I looked at him like I had him. I don't even think it was one of my better hits," Siragusa said. "I wanted to shake him up and knock him around a bit. I fell on him and I heard him scream and then some air came out of him. I mean, I do weigh a lot and I fell on him."
Hoying, who threw just two passes during the regular season, entered the contest and quicky made a mistake. On his first attempt, Hoying had his pass intercepted by Starks, who returned it nine yards to the Oakland 20.
Gannon was heading to the locker room at the time of the interception and television replays caught him taking a look at Hoying's miscue.
The Ravens could not move the ball following the turnover and had to settle for a 31-yard field goal by Stover that made it 10-0 with 8:24 left before halftime.
Baltimore dominated the first half, outgaining the Raiders by a 177-38 margin while holding them to one first down.
Dilfer made his lone mistake on the third play of the second half. On 3rd-and-19 from his own 26, his pass for Sharpe was picked off by safety Johnnie Harris at the 39.
Gannon found tight end Jeremy Brigham with a 12-yard pass and a personal foul on Siragusa moved the ball to the 12.
The Raiders had 1st-and-goal at the 2, but the drive stalled. Wheatley lost one yard on first down, Gannon was sacked by Jamie Sharper and threw incomplete on third down. Rookie Sebastian Janikowski kicked a 24-yard field goal for Oakland's only points.
Sparked by that defensive stand, the Ravens regained the momentum on their ensuing drive, going 51 yards in nine plays. Dilfer had a 19-yard completion to tight end Ben Coates and the drive culminated with a 28-yard field goal by Stover that gave the Ravens a 13-3 lead with 5:13 left in the period.
Oakland got a big play from its defense near the end of the quarter when rookie Jamal Lewis fumbled and Pope recovered at the Ravens 43. Despite the turnover, Lewis carried the load for the Ravens and rushed for 83 yards on 29 attempts.
After an incompletion, Gannon was intercepted at the 15 by Starks, who returned the ball to midfield.
Gannon left after the fumble and completed 11-of-21 passes for 80 yards with two interceptions while getting sacked four times.
"I separated my shoulder. I got it injected and when I came back I had no velocity," he said. "I don't know even if I was there if I could've made a difference. We didn't play well. They covered us well and that made us struggle."
"We lost our opportunity to start the game in good field position. Then we lost our quarterback," Gruden said. "At half, he took a shot and came back. I went with Gannon. I knew he wouldn't be the same, but you go with your trigger. It is just unfortunate that it happened today. As soon as he took another hit, it was apparent that he was hurt and then I went with Bobby."
Lewis, the leader of the Ravens' vaunted defense, will be hoping for better memories at the Super Bowl.
Hours after last year's Super Bowl in Atlanta, Lewis was charged with murder in the stabbing deaths of two men outside a nightclub. He pleaded guilty to impeding a police investigation and the murder charges were dropped.
After the fumble recovery, the Ravens settled for a 12-yard field goal by Stover and a commanding 16-3 advantage with 7:32 left.
The Raiders finally showed signs of life on their next possession and moved from their own 14 to the Baltimore 12. On third down, Hoying hit Andre Rison with an apparent five-yard touchdown with 4:39 to go. But the veteran receiver was called for pass interference, killing the Raiders' best chance to reach the end zone.
Two plays later, Sharper sealed the win for the Ravens with an interception at the 2.
"This is the most disappointed I've been in my short career," said Hoying, who was 7-of-15 for 88 yards and two interceptions. "I just got too anxious. I didn't get into a groove. When we moved it, it was too little too late."
"It was a tough situation out there without Gannon. I think our defense played good enough today to win, but our offense didn't," added Raiders receiver Tim Brown, who had five catches for 48 yards.
The Raiders failed in a bid to reach the Super Bowl for the first time since January 1984, when they rolled to a 38-9 victory over Washington.