- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 1, 2002

OWINGS MILLS, Md. According to Baltimore Ravens coach Brian Billick, there is no "backing in" in football.

Billick says the term "backing in" is strictly a media creation and every team that qualifies for the playoffs, regardless of whether they win or lose on the day they clinch a spot, deserves to be there.

Billick will gladly accept any outside help that gets his Super Bowl champions back into the playoffs. He doesn't care how the Ravens get in, just as long as they get a chance to defend their title.

And heading into the final week of the season, the playoff door is wide open.

If either the New York Jets (9-6) or the Seattle Seahawks (8-7) lose Sunday, the Ravens (9-6) clinch an AFC wild-card berth regardless of the outcome of the franchise's first-ever "Monday Night Football" appearance against the downtrodden Minnesota Vikings (5-10). If the Jets and Seahawks both win then Baltimore must win to qualify.

"No one is backing into the playoffs, that's one of those like superstar and genius that's one of the most useless terms [the media] has coined," Billick said. "If you get into the playoffs, you earned it. Maybe the most recent game isn't the way you would have liked to go in, but if you've got nine wins or 10 wins to get into the playoffs, you've earned it. … Anybody that gets into the playoffs over a 16-game schedule, deserves to be in the playoffs."

If the Ravens clinch a spot by kickoff on Monday, Billick hinted that he may rest some of his starters.

"If the game has absolutely no bearing whatsoever on our ability to get into the playoffs, or where we sit on the road or not on the road then you have to be prudent about things that come up during the game, primarily injuries," Billick said. "A guy that pulls up with something a mild hamstring, a mild shoulder sprain, a deep thigh bruise, something like that you have to make tactical decisions."

Ultimately though, the Ravens' playoff hopes may rest on them Monday at PSINet Stadium. Based on how poorly the Ravens offense particularly quarterback Elvis Grbac played in Saturday's numbing 22-10 loss at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the prospect of the Ravens being home for the playoffs is very real.

Billick refused to pull Grbac in favor of backup Randall Cunningham during Saturday's debacle, despite the fact that Grbac threw two interceptions and was plagued with a groin and rib injury. However, if the Ravens' season comes down to Monday night, Billick left the door slightly ajar for a quarterback change.

"There is always that caveat that if at some point if a player for any number of reasons can not perform, then you make a change," said Billick, who two weeks ago endorsed Grbac as his quarterback for this year, next year and beyond.

Speaking of quarterbacks, Trent Dilfer, who led the Ravens to last season's Super Bowl triumph, may come back to haunt Baltimore. The Ravens refused to re-sign the bargain-priced Dilfer in the offseason and opted to spend $30 million on Grbac.

Dilfer, who signed a free-agent deal with Seattle in the offseason, is now Mike Holmgren's starting quarterback. If the Seahawks beat the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday and the Ravens lose to the Vikings, the Seahawks eliminate the Ravens on a tiebreaker. Of course, the Jets are still in the equation, but Dilfer, who has won his last 14 starts, could do his part to ruin the Ravens season.

"That would be interesting wouldn't it," Billick said. "There's probably a little motivation for Trent, that would be fun for him, to indeed try to make that happen. Fortunately for us, [Dilfers] not in charge of it. We can beat Minnesota and make it a moot point."


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