NASHVILLE, Tenn. | The Baltimore Ravens are rolling down a familiar road. It’s a route they once took to a Super Bowl title. They expect it to lead to the same place this time, too.
In January 2001, the Ravens stuffed their wild-card playoff berth down the throats of four opponents to win their only NFL crown. One of the teams they beat was Tennessee.
On Saturday, the Ravens eliminated the Titans, the AFC’s top seed, 13-10. The game followed a 27-9 victory over Miami in the wild-card round.
Next up is another division winner - the Pittsburgh Steelers, who beat Baltimore twice this season to take the AFC North. The Steelers beat the Chargers 35-24 on Sunday.
“It’s great to make our own history, our own path,” linebacker Bart Scott said. “That team was great. We can’t be compared to that team. That team had its own identity, and we’re trying to create our own.
“We’re not through yet. We’ll evaluate all that stuff when it’s over with.”
To a man, the Ravens (13-5) believe it will be over after a successful trip to Tampa, Fla., the same place they beat the Giants for their previous Super Bowl championship.
The leader of that team was Ray Lewis. He still is as an All-Pro with viable Hall of Fame credentials and a mean streak that epitomizes the Ravens.
“We always have got one philosophy to this defense,” Lewis said after Baltimore forced three turnovers and a slew of other blunders by the Titans. “If they don’t score, they don’t win.
“I was here in 2000. It was physical then. Both ballclubs are built kind of similar. That is why the game came down to what it was. We knew that coming into the game.”
What these Ravens have more of than the previous title team is balance. Led by 40-year-old kicker Matt Stover, who made the 43-yard winning field goal with 53 seconds left, their special teams, are, well, special. Punter Sam Koch also excels, and the coverage units are solid.
And unlike in 2000, these Ravens have a more varied offense. Baltimore has a rookie quarterback who doesn’t get rattled in Joe Flacco. The Ravens of eight seasons ago had a journeyman veteran, Trent Dilfer, who was a game manager.
Flacco is unflappable. Twice on Saturday, he was faced with difficult situations and came through.
The Ravens led 10-7 when they recovered Tennessee tight end Alge Crumpler’s fumble at their 1. On third down, Flacco retreated to throw and came dangerously close to stepping on the back line for a safety. As the crowd at LP Field howled, he threw an incompletion.
“I think my foot wrapped around and came back inbounds,” Flacco said. “I almost pulled a Dan Orlovsky.”
Orlovsky, the Lions quarterback, stepped well out of the back of the end zone in a game this season.
“I wasn’t out because they didn’t call it,” Flacco added.
And on a third-and-2 at the Baltimore 32 with 2:51 to go, Flacco completed a 23-yarder to Todd Heap even though the scoreboard showed zero on the play clock. Again, the crowd screamed.
“The back judge is responsible for that,” referee Terry McAulay said. “He has the clock. When it hits zero … he goes to the ball. So there is going to be a natural delay from zero to getting to the ball. And when he gets to the ball, if it is being snapped, we don’t call it.”