- The Washington Times - Monday, January 7, 2002

OWINGS MILLS, Md. It's quite simple: Win and they're in. Lose and go home.
The playoff hopes of the defending Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens hinge on one game, tonight against the Minnesota Vikings at PSINet Stadium.
The Ravens (9-6) received no help yesterday and could not back into the postseason. If the Ravens beat the reeling Vikings (5-10), Baltimore would qualify as an AFC wild card as the sixth playoff seed and travel next weekend to the Miami Dolphins (11-5) for the first round of the playoffs. A loss to the Vikings and the Ravens' season is over and the Trent Dilfer-led Seattle Seahawks are in.
Ironic, huh?
"I hope [the New York Jets and Seahawks] win Sunday because now we'll know Monday night what we have to do," Ravens Pro Bowl tight end Shannon Sharpe said on Thursday. "We win, we're in. If we don't, we go home and deservedly so. I don't want to get into the playoffs on someone else's misfortune. I think the playoffs should be reserved for teams that earned the right to get there. If we win the game, then we obviously earned the right to be there."
Luckily for the Ravens, the Vikings are in disarray.
On Friday, Vikings owner Red McCombs bought out the final two years of coach Dennis Green's $5million contract. That means former Maryland star Mike Tice, the offensive line coach, will serve as interim coach on national television.
Then there are Vikings star receivers Cris Carter and Randy Moss. On Thursday during a conference call, Carter said in so many words that this will be his last season in Minnesota. Moss boasted earlier in the season that he plays hard when he feels like it.
The receivers have been captured on television in several heated sideline outbursts.
Carter actually said he would welcome a chance to reunite with Ravens coach Brian Billick and play in Baltimore next season. Billick was Carter's offensive coordinator in Minnesota from 1993 to 1998.
"I just think there are a lot of opportunities, I haven't said that I'm going to leave yet, I just said that there are opportunities that I might leave," Carter said. "My contract is up. I want to be in a position at this point in my career to win. I don't think I'm doing right for myself if I don't explore those opportunities."
Carter probably will play tonight's game despite having a broken rib. If he is unavailable that would make things even more difficult for third-string quarterback Spergon Wynn, who is starting just the third game of his career.
In last week's 24-13 loss to the playoff-bound Green Bay Packers, Wynn completed 11 of 30 passes for 114 yards and one touchdown.
"We've seen him before at Cleveland," Billick said of Wynn. "Obviously, these are different circumstances. He's a very talented athlete and can run around very strong arm. He doesn't have a lot of experience. He's capable of making plays for them."
Wynn will probably try to challenge Ravens cornerbacks Chris McAlister and Duane Starks. Both have had subpar seasons and are perceived as the defense's weak links. Moss and third receiver Jake Reed are more than capable of taking advantage of the Ravens' corners.
However, Baltimore is confident its corners will hold up. Billick pointed to his team's seasonal series with the Jacksonville Jaguars and their talented wideouts Keenan McCardell and Jimmy Smith and said his secondary has experience against great receivers.
"[Carter and Moss] have all the hype," Starks said. "Biggest challenge? No. Another challenge? Yes. If [Wynn is] on, then he's on. If he's not having a great game, then that's the type of quarterback we feel he is."

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