- The Washington Times - Monday, December 11, 2000


BALTIMORE Football fans in Charm City waited 23 years for this moment: "Hon, Balmer's going to the playoffs."
For the first time in their five-year history, the Baltimore Ravens clinched at least an AFC wild-card spot yesterday by defeating the hapless San Diego Chargers 24-3. The last Baltimore NFL team to make the postseason was the Colts in 1977.
Art Modell, the Ravens' 75-year-old owner, was introduced before the game at PSINet Stadium. Then his players paid their own tribute to the NFL's longest-serving owner by presenting him with what will be the 21st career playoff game for a Modell-owned franchise.
The Ravens' defense did not allow a touchdown for the fifth time this season and held the
Chargers to 128 total yards. Baltimore recovered four fumbles and intercepted one pass as the Ravens suffocated the Chargers before 68,805, winning a Ravens-record fifth straight game.
The Ravens (10-4) clinched a playoff spot with two weeks left in the regular season. There is still a remote possibility that the Ravens could win the division, but they will need Cleveland or Dallas to upset AFC Central-leading Tennessee (11-3) while the Ravens win out.
Even without outside help, the Ravens are a front-runner to host a first-round wild-card playoff game.
Coach Brian Billick, architect of the Ravens' rise to prosperity, said clinching a playoff berth is only the beginning.
"You've got to earn the right to get where we are right now," said Billick, who is 5-0 in December over two seasons. "This team, this organization has never been there. There are other teams that right from the get-go say, 'We're going to go to the Super Bowl this year; we're going to win a championship.' Certainly those have been our goals. Accountability says you can't talk like that until you get into the playoffs. Well, we're there now. Now the gloves come off, and why not us?"
With no dominant team in the AFC, the Ravens are as legitimate a Super Bowl contender as anyone in the conference maybe more so because of the league's best defense. The postgame locker room scene was considerably upbeat, but all the talk was about playing late into January.
"We're not going to the playoffs just to play one game," defensive end Rob Burnett said. "We're in the playoffs, but right now we have to keep the hammer down and stay focused."
While the defense stonewalled the Chargers (1-13), the Ravens' offense wasn't at its sharpest despite scoring 24 points. Quarterback Trent Dilfer was shaky, fumbling twice while being sacked and throwing two interceptions. But for the game, Dilfer completed 16 of 24 passes for 187 yards and two touchdowns.
"I did not play my best football, and mistakes are part of the game," Dilfer said. "You just can't let it bring you down too much. On this team, if I just push the buttons, rally the troops, get us going, sometimes that's all we need."
After the Ravens took a 3-0 first-quarter lead on Matt Stover's 32-yard field goal, Dilfer found the end zone with 4:16 left before halftime. On third-and-3 from the San Diego 28, he threw a 28-yard pass to wide receiver Qadry Ismail that was first ruled incomplete in the end zone. But Billick challenged the call, and the ruling was reversed when replays showed that Ismail had both feet down and possession at the right edge of the end zone to make it 10-0.
The touchdown drive was set up when linebacker Cornell Brown stripped the ball out of San Diego quarterback Ryan Leaf's hands. Defensive tackle Larry Webster (Maryland) recovered at the Chargers' 46.
Another San Diego turnover led to the Ravens' second touchdown early in the third quarter. Chargers running back Terrell Fletcher tried the Ravens' left side, but strong safety Kim Herring knocked the ball loose at the Chargers' 12. Burnett picked up the bouncing ball and tiptoed out of bounds at the 3. Two plays later, Jamal Lewis plunged one yard over the top on the left side for a 17-3 lead.
The Raven added a 22-yard touchdown pass from Dilfer to wide receiver Brandon Stokley with 4:51 left in the third quarter.
The Chargers avoided a shutout when kicker John Carney made a 47-yard field goal with 48 seconds left before halftime.
"Our worst fears came into play today," Chargers coach Mike Riley said. "We know they have a great defense, and we didn't want to give their offense good field position. But we did for 21 points worth today, and it's hard to make up that ground."

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