St. Petersburg Times: Super Bowl XXXV
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Super Bowl XXXV Tampa, Florida 2001
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  • The Road to Super Bowl XXXV

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    The Ravens: 10 memorable events

    By JOHN ROMANO

    © St. Petersburg Times, published January 26, 2001


    photo
    [AP photo]
    The Ravens’ Ray Lewis had to fight for his freedom in court before he could fight for wins on the field.
    The Baltimore Ravens were a team without an identity. The Colts took their legacy with them to Indianapolis, and a new Browns franchise popped up in Cleveland. The Ravens were stuck somewhere in between.

    They had no past to claim as their own, no days of yore to remember fondly.

    So it was, in the season of 2000-01, the Ravens opted to make their own history.

    A team that had won 24 of its first 64 games in its new home broke out with a 12-4 season and a string of upsets in the playoffs.

    They reached Super Bowl XXXV in Tampa Bay with a discarded quarterback, a fiesty leader who had never been a head coach anywhere else and a truly remarkable defense that got better with every game.

    "The thing we have going for us is we have no star power," said receiver Qadry Ismail. "We have no marquee names. We just came together as a team and we got better and better. There are no ego problems because we're all in this together."

    Here are 10 things to remember from Baltimore's history making run:

    TAKING THAT FIRST STEP: The Ravens said their season was all about getting past hurdles. The first was Jacksonville. The Jaguars had ruled the AFC Central in recent seasons and had dominated Baltimore. If the Ravens were going to survive in their division, they had to make a stand against the Jaguars, who had beaten them in 10 consecutive games, dating back to the franchise's days in Cleveland.

    Meeting in the season's second week, Baltimore quickly fell behind 17-0 and trailed 23-7 at halftime.

    "I didn't rant and rave," coach Brian Billick said of his halftime speech. "I told them that what they do in the second half -- win or lose, it doesn't matter -- will define who they are."

    Baltimore scored on its first drive of the second half and completed the comeback when Tony Banks threw a 29-yard touchdown pass to Shannon Sharpe with 41 seconds remaining for a 39-36 victory.

    LAYING DOWN THE LAW: The season's biggest moment arrived not on the field in Baltimore, but in a courtroom in Georgia. Imprisoned on double homicide charges after an incident at Super Bowl XXXIV in Atlanta, linebacker Ray Lewis spent 15 days in jail and the Ravens began making contingency plans for a new middle linebacker.

    The charges were later dropped, and Lewis pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of obstructing justice and was sentenced to one year of probation.

    Six months later, Lewis was named the NFL defensive player of the year.

    "After I fought for my life in Atlanta, everyone said, "He might not be the same again,' " Lewis said. "Well, they were absolutely correct. I'm not the same. I'm better."

    THE DEFENSE THAT ROARED: The Ravens finished second in the NFL in total defense in 1999, but hardly anyone noticed. An 8-8 record can have that effect on people.

    photo
    [AP photo]
    Former Buc Trent Dilfer was signed on as an insurance policy, but he eventually became much more than that.
    With the addition of free agent defensive tackle Sam Adams and the maturation of cornerbacks Duane Starks and Chris McAlister, the Ravens defense was even better in 2000. How much better? Perhaps the best of all time.

    The rest of the NFL began to notice on Nov. 19 when the Ravens beat Dallas 27-0. It was Baltimore's fourth shutout of the season, the most since Pittsburgh's Steel Curtain had five in 1976.

    Of even greater importance, the victory boosted the Ravens to 8-4 and moved them to the top of the wild-card heap in the AFC.

    The defense, led by coordinator Marvin Lewis, went on to set a record for fewest points allowed in a 16-game season with 165.

    "We're the baddest defense ever," defensive tackle Tony Siragusa said. "You can talk all the garbage you want, but nobody has beaten us. If you come in and beat our defense and put the points on the board, we'll admit you've beaten us. But right now, nobody has done it. So we ain't giving up to anybody."

    THE SPECIAL TEAM: In danger of falling behind in the fourth quarter of the AFC Divisional Game against Tennessee, Keith Washington and Anthony Mitchell combined on Baltimore's biggest play of the season.

    With the score tied at 10-10, a 37-yard field goal attempt by Tennessee's Al Del Greco was partially blocked by Washington. The ball fluttered toward the goal line before Mitchell plucked it out of the air and returned it 90 yards for a touchdown and a 17-10 lead. The Ravens went on to upset the Titans 24-10.

    DILFER’S RESCUE: When the Ravens signed Trent Dilfer, they figured he was a cheap insurance policy. Cut loose by the Buccaneers, Dilfer figured he could find refuge in Baltimore for a year while regaining confidence under Billick's tutelage.

    Neither side expected Dilfer to take Baltimore to the Super Bowl.

    When the Ravens went through their touchdown drought in October, Dilfer replaced Banks at quarterback. He lost his first start 9-6 to Pittsburgh but then ran off 10 consecutive victories.

    "People overreact when you win and they overreact when you lose. I go as hard as I can, and if I fail, I move on. If I succeed, I move on," Dilfer said. "When Tampa Bay gave up on me after last year, I refused to get overly emotional. I told my wife, "We'll be fine.' "

    SHARPE MOVE: Baltimore's passing attack was fairly anemic in 2000. Just imagine what might have been if the Ravens had not signed Shannon Sharpe.

    On his way to setting virtually every receiving record for tight ends in NFL history, Sharpe left Denver after 10 seasons and two Super Bowl rings to sign as a free agent in Baltimore in February.

    He would end up leading the Ravens in receiving and was the offensive star of the playoffs with touchdown receptions of 58 yards against Denver, 56 yards against Tennessee and 96 yards against Oakland.

    SURVIVING OCTOBER: Super Bowl teams do not go a month without scoring a touchdown. Not even mediocre teams do that. Yet the Ravens played five games in October without scoring a touchdown. And, remarkably, they managed to stay in contention.

    Baltimore won two straight touchdown-less games with great defense and Matt Stover's accurate leg. The Ravens beat the Browns 12-0 on Stover's four field goals and then beat the Jaguars 15-10 on five Stover field goals.

    The Ravens would lose their next three games by a combined score of 33-15, but still had a 5-4 record heading into November.

    "We make no excuses for that five-game stretch," Billick said. "It is what it is. We didn't score a touchdown for five games in a row, but we fought through it, didn't let it get to us and are stronger for having found a way to get to another level."

    HANDING THE BALL OFF: Jamal Lewis, 21, was hardly impressive in his first two NFL games. The rookie from Tennessee gained 23 yards on 10 carries as the Ravens went 2-0 with Priest Holmes as the starting tailback.

    Yet the Ravens had gambled five months earlier by making Lewis the No. 5 pick in the draft, and they continued to show faith by elevating him to the No. 1 running back in Week 3 against Miami. The Ravens suffered their first loss that day but found a new tailback. Lewis averaged 96 yards a game from that day forward, becoming the 14th back in NFL history to rush for more than 1,300 yards as a rookie.

    FEEDING THE BEAST: There was some concern in Baltimore that 342-pound defensive tackle Tony Siragusa would not be around for the 2000 season. Siragusa was a training camp holdout looking for a contract extension from the Ravens. Four weeks passed and there was talk that Siragusa might sit out the season.

    Sirausa relented two weeks before the first game and was one of the anchors of the run-stopping defense. In retrospect, Siragusa may have gotten what he wanted all along by missing the grind of training camp. He alluded to that theory when discussing the reasons Tennessee lineman Bruce Matthews has survived 18 years in the NFL.

    "The guy doesn't practice at all," Siragusa said. "Why do you think I held out?"

    THE STATS THAT MATTER: Innovative offenses were all the rage in the 1990s, but the Ravens reached Super Bowl XXXV the old-fashioned way. They beat up on people on defense and held onto the ball on offense.

    Baltimore had the best turnover ratio in the NFL at plus-23. The defense led the league with 49 takeaways, and the offense had only 26 giveaways.

    The Ravens essentially wore opponents down and it showed on the scoreboard. Baltimore scored 333 points and gave up 165, becoming the sixth team in 20 years to score twice as much as its opponents. The previous five all won the Super Bowl.

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