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Ball bounces right for Sharpe on TD

By JOHN ROMANO

© St. Petersburg Times, published January 1, 2001


BALTIMORE -- And they say Trent Dilfer has trouble hitting his receivers down field. Heck, the ex-Buccaneers quarterback hit two in one play Sunday.

The Broncos had to know it was not going to be their day when the Ravens scored a 58-yard touchdown on a pass that bounced off a receiver and a defender before falling into the hands of tight end Shannon Sharpe.

"We work real hard on that," coach Brian Billick deadpanned. "You get the back to bat it up just right -- that's the easy part -- but getting the DB to bat it back is the really hard part."

Dilfer was throwing to running back Jamal Lewis, who let the ball go through his hands and into the chest of cornerback Terrell Buckley. The ball bounced off Buckley, and Sharpe, who had run a shorter pattern than planned, scooped it out of the air. Lewis grabbed Buckley, and fullback Sam Gash delivered a terrific block on Bill Romanowski as Sharpe raced down the sideline.

"Jamal's favorite candy bar is Butterfingers, and you could tell from that play," Sharpe said. "I was in the wrong place at the right time."

It was the longest post-season reception for Sharpe, who spent 10 years with the Broncos and is the franchise's all-time leading receiver with 42 catches in the playoffs.

DISCRETION: Mike Shanahan waited until game time before announcing Gus Frerotte would start at quarterback, but the Denver coach knew all along he was not going to send Brian Griese on the field with a bum shoulder.

Griese had participated in five plays in the past six weeks and re-injured the shoulder in a brief appearance in the regular season's last weekend. Shanahan said he did not consider replacing Frerotte with Griese in the second half Sunday. Instead, he sent in rookie Jarious Jackson.

"I could tell the latter part of the week that if we put (Griese) in there and he took a hit, I didn't believe he would survive," Shanahan said. "So, I didn't think it was in his best interest to put him in that situation."

THE REAL PRIZE: Broncos running back Mike Anderson is expected to edge Lewis for rookie of the year honors in the AFC. Lewis, who outgained Anderson 110-40 on Sunday, said he is not overly concerned.

"That's all individual stuff, and it doesn't matter," Lewis said. "All I know is I'll still be playing next week. I still have a chance to win the Super Bowl. That rookie stuff will be long forgotten by then."

WIND-SWEPT: The wind chill was 5 degrees at kickoff, but the biggest problem for the offenses was the way balls took off in wind gusts.

"It was the hardest I've ever played in, and I've played in some windy days," Dilfer said. "This wind was bitter cold, and it was swirling. Every ball you threw would start off spinning, and you watch when it was halfway there, it started wobbling and going end over end."

HISTORICALLY SPEAKING: The victory was the first for the Ravens in the post-season since moving to Baltimore from Cleveland five years ago. For the city of Baltimore, it was the first NFL win in the playoffs since the Colts beat the Browns on Dec. 26, 1971.

The loss snapped a seven-game post-season winning streak for the Broncos, dating to the 1997 season. The Packers hold the record with nine consecutive post-season victories in the 1960s.

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