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Defending champs flash Super Bowl form in playoff opener

Miami hits 'more of the same

Posted: Monday, January 14, 2002

MIAMI -- The defending Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens looked the part.

The Miami Dolphins looked awful at playoff time, as usual.

Bruising defense, a grinding ground game and one pivotal pass helped Baltimore beat Miami 20-3 in a wild-card playoff game Sunday.

The Ravens struggled at times during the regular season and needed a win last week over Minnesota to make the playoffs. Now they've advanced to the divisional round Sunday at AFC Central champion Pittsburgh.

''These are the January Ravens,'' tight end Shannon Sharpe said. ''The September, October, November and December Ravens -- we got rid of those guys.''

For Miami (11-6), the ending was painfully familiar. The Dolphins are the only team to reach the playoffs each of the past five years, but they've made an early exit every time by a combined score of 164-16.

''You've got to look at who you've been fooling all year,'' Pro Bowl linebacker Zach Thomas said. ''We didn't beat anybody. You can say all you want about 11-5. I'd rather be 1-15 for a year and get some people in here. I'm tired of us being good and not great.''

Good wasn't good enough against the Ravens. Their defense allowed only 151 yards, and Miami's lone score came after Baltimore fumbled the opening kickoff. The Dolphins managed just one first down in the opening 23 minutes and finished with nine.

The Ravens (11-6) also showed surprising punch on offense. They rushed for a season-high 226 yards, converted 10 of 16 third downs and scored on touchdown marches of 90 and 99 yards, their longest of the season.

Terry Allen carried 25 times for 109 yards and a score, and Jason Brookins added 65 yards in 10 attempts.

''I didn't want to be the reason we didn't win,'' Allen said.

Elvis Grbac, frequently maligned during his first year with the Ravens, went 12-for-18 for 133 yards and a touchdown with no turnovers.

''This is why I came here,'' Grbac said. ''Quarterbacks make their mark in the playoffs.''

The Ravens went ahead to stay with a 17-play, 90-yard march that began midway through the first period and took nearly nine minutes. Allen scored on a 4-yard run, capping a drive that included seven first downs, four on third down.

A bold call helped the Ravens put the game away in the third period. Nursing a 7-3 lead and facing a third-and-1 at the Baltimore 10-yard line, Grbac fooled Miami by throwing deep to Travis Taylor, who beat Patrick Surtain for a 45-yard gain.

Offensive coordinator Matt Cavanaugh called the play.

''It was real gutsy,'' Taylor said. ''If our defense hadn't been playing so well, we probably would have run the ball.''

Eight plays later, again on third down, Taylor beat Surtain for a 4-yard touchdown catch.

The Ravens' defense slipped this season from its 2000 level, but was still ranked No. 2 in the NFL, and it was in fine form against Miami. Baltimore stuffed the Dolphins' feeble ground game, blanketed their receivers, harried Jay Fiedler and forced three turnovers.

''We were just unable to get any confidence as the game went on,'' Dolphins coach Dave Wannstedt said. ''We are obviously a much better team than the way we played.''

Miami's Lamar Smith, who rushed for 158 yards last week against Buffalo, was limited to 6 on six carries. The Dolphins totaled 46 yards on the ground, and by the fourth quarter fans were jeering the home team.

''It's always fun to come into a stadium when their fans are booing instead of yours,'' Baltimore coach Brian Billick said.

The Ravens had three sacks, including one by AFC sack leader Peter Boulware that forced a fumble. Sam Adams recovered, setting up Matt Stover's 35-yard field goal to make it 17-3. Stover added a 40-yarder with 2:01 left.

Miami's last gasp came with eight minutes to go. Fiedler hit James McKnight in stride with a 40-yard pass to the 3, but the ball bounced off the receiver and was intercepted by Duane Starks.

Now the Ravens move on to Pittsburgh. Baltimore won there 13-10 on Nov. 4, but lost 26-21 at home to the Steelers on Dec. 16.

''Forget the regular season,'' Boulware said. ''What matters is what happens in the playoffs.''

And over the past two years, Baltimore's postseason record is 5-0.

Notes: Miami rookie receiver Chris Chambers, hobbled by sprains in both ankles, was inactive. ... Sharpe has been on the winning team in 12 consecutive postseason games, an NFL record. ... Baltimore's Ed Hartwell was ejected in the first quarter for throwing a forearm to the helmet of Twan Russell on a punt. ... The game was the only one this weekend to be blacked out, but it sold out shortly before kickoff. ... The Dolphins have trailed at halftime in their past nine playoff games. ... Baltimore improved to 6-0 when leading at the start of the fourth quarter.



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