- The Washington Times - Monday, January 8, 2001

NASHVILLE, Tenn. Last year the fates were with the Tennessee Titans, beneficiaries of the Music City Miracle. This year the charmed team in the NFL playoffs is the Baltimore Ravens as the Titans learned oh-so-painfully yesterday. Talent is great, and home-field advantage helps, too, but destiny trumps all in pro football's postseason, and the Ravens definitely have the Force with them.

How could they not after what has transpired the last two weeks? In the first round against Denver, they scored the back-breaker on a flat pass that caromed off two players and turned into a 58-yard Shannon Sharpe touchdown. And yesterday, against the defending AFC champs, they broke the game open with two fourth quarter TDs, neither of which was supplied by their offense.

As Baltimore's stunning 24-10 victory became increasingly inevitable, "I just kept seeing us last year," said Tennessee defensive tackle John Thornton. "Things were going right for them. The same thing happened to us last year."

How many NFL teams have ever gained 134 yards and won a playoff game? Well, the Ravens did yesterday. They ran two plays all afternoon that worked a pass to Sharpe that went for 56 (and set up their first touchdown) and another to Qadry Ismail that went for 33. In their other 41 plays, they netted a grand total of 45 yards. Forty-five yards. You could run 41 quarterback sneaks and pick up more yardage than that.

How many NFL teams have ever had two punts blocked inside their own 30, no less and won a playoff game? Well, the Ravens did yesterday. Why? Because the Titans got only three points out of them, thanks to some great backs-to-the-wall play by the Baltimore defense.

Then there's Anthony Mitchell, the Ravens' first-year safety. Mitchell made the single biggest play of the game a 90-yard run with a blocked field goal to put Baltimore ahead 17-10. And you know what? He had never played on the unit before. But yesterday he had to replace Corey Harris, who was elevated to the starting lineup because of an injury to Kim Herring. Would Harris have grabbed the ball on the blocked field goal and run 90 yards? Would anyone other than Anthony Mitchell have done it?

"It's the bounce," Tennessee's Jeff Fisher said. "As a rule, if the ball goes across the line of scrimmage [on a blocked field goal], you let it lay. They picked it up and ran it back for a touchdown. We had two [blocked punts] behind the line of scrimmage [and didn't advance the ball]. We couldn't get a bounce."

No wonder Art Modell visited his team's locker room after the game. When players have that kind of karma going for them, you want some of it to rub off on you.

"I haven't come down [after the games] at all this year," he said, "because I felt this room belongs to the players and coaches. They don't need me running around answering questions. But I thought I ought to be here to say hello to the players" and maybe get one of them to buy a lottery ticket for him. The way the Ravens are going, it would undoubtedly be a winner.

Keith Washington, the Ravens' backup defensive end, hadn't blocked a field goal all season until yesterday. Then he got a hand on not one but two of Al Del Greco's kicks, the second deflection winding up in Mitchell's mitts.

Ray Lewis, the Ravens' incomparable middle linebacker, had never scored a touchdown in his NFL career until yesterday. Then, in the fourth quarter, he picked off a pass that the Titans' Eddie George was bobbling and 50 yards and about three hours later crossed the goal line to give Baltimore a 14-point cushion. (I'm pretty sure he stopped for dinner along the way.)

"And you guys thought it took me a long time [to go 58 yards against Denver last week]," Sharpe cracked.

"He's slow as [the dickens]," Rod Woodson said of Lewis. "Number 71 [Fred Miller, Tennessee's 315-pound offensive tackle] caught him, he just couldn't tackle him."

These kinds of things don't happen every week. They only happen when a club is on a serious roll. The Ravens must be at the point now, after escaping Adelphia Coliseum with a victory for the second straight time, where they almost expect fortune to smile on them. No visiting team in the league has been able to win in Nashville except Baltimore.

"The road to the Super goes through where?" Sharpe chortled. "Adelphia Coliseum? We just foreclosed on this place today."

It's not that the Ravens aren't good. They're plenty good. It takes more than smoke and mirrors to reel off nine straight victories in the NFL. But they're also beginning to develop this aura about them. It's a charmed life they're living the charmed life of champions. And now they'll attempt to bring the Raiders under their spell, with a berth in the Super Bowl at stake. The way their luck has been running, they just might pull it off.


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