NFC: When Giants turned things around
Ravens, 'Skins took different roads, and that made all the difference
 Trent Dilfer is concerned with the size of the Giants' defensive backs.
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 Shannon Sharpe says the Giants' defense is "as good as advertised."
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Ravens' reign came after touchdown drought
By Mark Cannizzaro

Every team that reaches its ultimate goal comes to a defining turning point in its journey. It either takes a turn that leads to promise or takes a turn that leads to demise.

For the Super Bowl-bound Baltimore Ravens, their defining moment was not a single moment, but a series of agonizing, touchdown-less moments.

Jamal Lewis and Trent Dilfer
Jamal Lewis, left, and Trent Dilfer celebrate one of Dilfer's three TD passes against Cincy on Nov. 5.
From Sunday, Oct. 1 to Sunday, Nov. 5, the Ravens played five-plus games without scoring a single, solitary touchdown. Amazingly, they survived.

The touchdown scoring drought began quietly, because Baltimore won the first two games of the streak despite not scoring a touchdown. It started on Oct. 1 in Cleveland, where the Ravens would shut out the Browns 12-0 on four field goals from kicker Matt Stover.

In that game, the Ravens rang up 22 first downs, their quarterback, Tony Banks, threw the ball 38 times, and they rushed for 188 yards and a robust 5.1-yard average per carry. Still, the Ravens couldn't manage to cross the goal line.

Game Two of the drought came on Oct. 8 in Jacksonville, where the Ravens beat the Jaguars 15-10 with five Stover field goals. In that game, the Jaguars outgained the Ravens 348-193 in total yards and 22-10 in first downs. The Ravens left Jacksonville with a remarkable 5-1 record, but angst over their offensive slump was growing.

On Oct. 15 against Washington at the Redskins' home field, the Ravens' offensive futility finally caught up to them. The Redskins beat Baltimore 10-3 that day and, in what was a low point, Banks failed to connect with tight end Shannon Sharpe for the tying touchdown when his pass from the Washington 12-yard line with 15 seconds left was intercepted in the end zone.

Despite the rising frustration with the offense, Ravens coach Brian Billick stuck with Banks at quarterback for their Oct. 22 game against the Titans at home. The final result was a 14-6 loss to Tennessee.

Most exasperating about that game was the fact that Tennessee was held to seven first downs and 191 yards of total offense compared to 24 first downs and 368 yards in total offense from the Ravens. And yet all Baltimore could muster in the way of points was a pair of Stover field goals. This was the end for Banks, who threw three interceptions against Tennessee.

On Oct. 29 at PSINet Stadium, the Trent Dilfer era began at quarterback. Unfortunately for the Ravens, the result didn't change as the Steelers won 9-6. Dilfer's numbers were weak -- 11-for-24 for 152 yards and an interception.

With the Ravens 5-4, nursing a three-game losing streak and with Billick having gone away from Banks and placing his stock in Dilfer, this was a fragile time for Baltimore. It could have been the end of a promising season.

Little did anyone know that the Ravens would not lose another game. Little did anyone know that Dilfer would become one of the stars of the 2000 season.

Fifty-three seconds into the second quarter of the Ravens' Nov. 5 game against the Bengals, Dilfer connected with tight end Brandon Stokley from 14 yards out and thus began a new season for the Ravens. That delicious touchdown would end an agonizing span of 21 quarters, 306 minutes and 59 seconds and 59 offensive possessions without one. The Ravens enjoyed a 27-7 rout of the Bengals with Dilfer throwing three touchdown passes.

Dilfer would define his season and put his stamp on this team the following week when he engineered a riveting 24-23 comeback victory over the Titans in Tennessee.

What has followed, particularly in the postseason, has been a Ravens team that has thrived on defense and special teams and just enough offense.

With that potentially deadly drought a mere speck in the rearview window for Baltimore, the Ravens are not apologizing for their lack of a prolific offense.

"We're not consumed with stats. We're consumed with winning," Dilfer said.

Dilfer returns to Tampa
Speaking of Dilfer, his ride to the Super Bowl and where the game is being played -- in Tampa, where he was run out of town by frustrated Buccaneers followers -- is among the most compelling stories as Super Bowl hype week descends upon us.

Trent Dilfer

"Kind of ironic," Dilfer said of returning to Tampa of all places as one of the Super Bowl quarterbacks. "Obviously, I'm excited. I think the greatest lesson I've learned in life is that you can't go running from adversity. You have to let it hit you straight in the face.

"I'm very thankful for my six years in Tampa. I would not trade one experience I had there because it made me the man you see today."

What Dilfer is, by comparison to the days of his well-documented struggles, is a more mature, smart quarterback who wins games because he's learned how to be a complementary player. Since that loss against Pittsburgh, Dilfer has helped engineer 10 consecutive victories.

"He's not a great quarterback, but he did enough to win the game," Raiders cornerback Charles Woodson said after Dilfer completed 9 of 18 passes for 180 yards in the Ravens' 16-3 win over Oakland in the AFC championship game.

Even when you listen to Dilfer's teammates, such as Shannon Sharpe, there's a tone that says, "Don't lose the game."

Again, Dilfer apologizes to no one.

"I have no bitterness whatsoever," Dilfer said. "I know it was the right decision for them and it was the right decision for me. I don't know how good I am, but I know I'm the right quarterback for this team."

Check these star-crossed numbers out:

  • As a Buccaneer, quarterback Doug Williams was shut out by the Los Angeles Rams 9-0 in the 1979 NFC championship game. As a Washington Redskin, he put up 35 points in one quarter against Denver in Super Bowl XXI and was named the MVP.

  • As a Buccaneer, quarterback Steve Young threw 11 touchdown passes and 21 interceptions in two years. As a San Francisco 49er, he threw six touchdown passes in one Super Bowl, went 183 regular-season attempts without an interception and is regarded as one of the all-time great players, a certain Hall of Fame entrant.

  • As a Buccaneer, quarterback Vinny Testaverde threw 35 interceptions in his second season. In his six years, the Bucs never won more than six games in a season. As a Jet, Testaverde led the Jets to a 12-4 record in 1998, throwing 29 touchdowns and only seven interceptions.

  • As a Buccaneer, quarterback Chris Chandler had five touchdown passes and 11 interceptions in two seasons. As an Atlanta Falcon, he had 29 touchdown passes in 1998 and led his team to the Super Bowl.

    Since Dilfer took over for the ineffective Banks on Oct. 29, he's 10-1 as the Ravens' starting quarterback entering this week.

    What will Trent Dilfer do next week in Tampa? Stay tuned.

    Ravens' vets glad to be Super Bowl rookies
    Baltimore's Rob Burnett, Tony Siragusa and Matt Stover have combined for 33 NFL seasons and played in more than 600 games. All three entered the league in 1990. None of the three veterans as played in a Super Bowl.

    Rob Burnett

    "This has been my goal since my first day in this league," Burnett said.

    Only three Ravens have Super Bowl experience -- Sharpe, tackle Harry Swayne and safety Rod Woodson.

    Stover was drafted by the Giants in 1990, the season they last won the Super Bowl. But he spent that year on injured reserve and was merely an observer when the Giants beat the Buffalo Bills 20-19 in Super Bowl XXV in Tampa.

    "How many opportunities have I had in the 11 years since, and I didn't even play in the first one?" Stover said. "I've told some of the younger guys to enjoy this, realize where you are, because it may be the only time you get to the Super Bowl. "I'll never forget Lawrence Taylor and Phil Simms before the NFC championship game against the 49ers. They said, 'If we don't do it here, we'll probably never get another chance to go back to the Super Bowl,' and that's exactly what happened. At this point in my career, this could be it for me, but who knows? We could go back for some more."

    Mark Cannizzaro of the New York Post writes a weekly AFC notebook for | ADVERTISER INFO | CONTACT US | TOOLS | SITE MAP
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