- The Washington Times - Monday, January 8, 2001


NASHVILLE, Tenn. It wasn't quite the Music City Miracle, but another wacky play at Adelphia Coliseum has put the Baltimore Ravens on the verge of the Super Bowl.

Ravens reserve safety Anthony Mitchell returned a blocked field goal 90 yards for the winning points in Baltimore's 24-10 victory in an AFC Divisional playoff game before a record 68,527 yesterday.

The Ravens (14-4) will play the Oakland Raiders (13-4) at Network Associates Coliseum on Sunday in the AFC Championship game for the right to go to Super Bowl XXXV Jan. 28 in Tampa, Fla.

Reserve defensive end Keith Washington blocked two Al Del Greco field goal attempts, including the one in the fourth quarter Mitchell brought back for a score. Middle linebacker Ray Lewis later returned an interception 50 yards for a touchdown to cap a game of big plays by the Ravens.

The Ravens defense, which set an NFL record for fewest points allowed in a 16-game season, received most of the press this season. But in the most important game in franchise history, on a day when the offense produced just six first downs and 134 yards, the special teams delivered a stunning knockout blow to the defending AFC champions.

Mitchell's return broke a 10-10 tie. Washington blocked a 36-yard attempt by Del Greco, whose first attempt from 45 yards also was blocked by Washington in the first quarter. Mitchell, a first-year player out of Tuskegee, caught the ball at the Ravens 10 and went 90 yards untouched for a 17-10 lead with 12:12 left in the game.

"[Del Greco] missed one before, and we were just going at him hoping he would slip up like he did the first time and [on the first block]," Mitchell said. "He missed [a field goal], and he got two blocked. The first time we blocked the field goal, the ball rolled in the end zone, and I was going to pick that up, but everybody told me to stay away from it. The second time I said, 'I can't stay away from this one, and I'm going to try to take this one back.' "

Ravens defensive end Rob Burnett noticed Del Greco's low trajectory on the extra point after the Titans' touchdown. Burnett told his teammates of his observation, and Washington took Burnett's advice by getting his hands up.

Del Greco also hit the left upright on a 31-yard attempt at the end of the first half to keep the score tied 7-7, furthering his miseries against Baltimore. On Nov. 12, Del Greco missed a 43-yarder as time expired that would have beaten the Ravens. The Titans have lost two games at Adelphia Coliseum, both against the Ravens, both after kicking breakdowns.

"You don't expect someone to run back a touchdown," Del Greco said. "It was a huge play, and I feel I was a big part of the loss. Not the whole reason, but I never imagined a game like this."

Said Titans tight end Frank Wycheck: "We thought we learned that lesson about the importance of one play killing you last year when we beat Buffalo with the 'Miracle' play."

The Titans beat the Buffalo Bills in a wild-card game last year when they returned a kickoff for a touchdown after a disputed lateral with no time left. Tennessee rode the momentum from the Music City Miracle to the Super Bowl, where it lost to the St. Louis Rams.

The Ravens had some problems of their own on special teams with two blocked punts, but the Titans managed only a field goal as a result.

With 6:41 left and the Ravens leading 17-10, Lewis sealed the game with his interception. Titans quarterback Steve McNair tried to hit running back Eddie George in the right flat, but the ball bounced off George's hands to Lewis. Lewis rambled 50 yards down the left sideline for his first career touchdown to give the Ravens the insurmountable lead.

"If it couldn't come at any other time, it came at the right time. It was a good play. I just broke on the ball, saw him bobble it and grabbed it," said Lewis, the NFL's defensive player of the year. "Then I saw the end zone. I was tired, but I got there."

On the game's first possession, the Titans got "there" fairly easily against Baltimore's record-setting defense, marching 68 yards on an 11-play drive that consumed 7:17. Titans running back Eddie George scored on a 2-yard run off left tackle to give the Titans a 7-0 lead.

The Ravens tied the game 7-7 in the second quarter on a 1-yard run by rookie running back Jamal Lewis with 9:46 left before halftime. Lewis' third touchdown of the postseason was set up by a 56-yard bomb to tight end Shannon Sharpe on a third-and-10 play from the 43.

Sharpe, who lined up in the slot, hesitated like he was going inside instead of down the sideline. Titans strong safety Blaine Bishop came up to the line of scrimmage and never picked up Sharpe. For the second week in a row, Sharpe made the Ravens' biggest offensive play.

"We ran the crossing route earlier, and they were playing for that again, but this time I went straight up the field," Sharpe said.

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