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Ravens Get the Swagger Back in Time

Pro football: Baltimore beats Vikings, reaches playoffs as wild card and can't shut up about it.


BALTIMORE — You can't shut up the Baltimore Ravens. Turns out, you can't shut them out of the playoffs, either.

The well chronicled, high-volume season of the defending Super Bowl champions, which began with an inside-look training camp documentary on HBO, came down to the NFL's last regular-season game.

By beating the Minnesota Vikings, 19-3, on Monday night, the Ravens secured the AFC's final wild card. (Of course, the night included NFL Films microphoned footage of Ravens Ray Lewis and Shannon Sharpe during the pregame and halftime.) They will play the Dolphins in Miami on Sunday.

When the Seattle Seahawks and New York Jets won Sunday, it forced the Ravens (10-6) to win this game or else sit out the postseason.

They're in. And once again, it's on.

"We've got a ticket to the dance," defensive lineman Tony Siragusa said. "Next stop is New Orleans."

It was a minute after earning the right to play by squeaking by the directionless Vikings, and they were thinking of the Super Bowl site.

"We feel confident," Raven Coach Brian Billick said. "We'd better go in with a swagger, or don't go in. Otherwise you're going to get your [butt] kicked, so why go?"

"You get hot, a team gets hot, they can ride this thing out, kind of like we did last year," Sharpe said. "We hope lightning strikes twice."

That would be two more times than the Raven offense did Monday. Most of the point production came from four Matt Stover field goals. They couldn't put the ball in the end zone despite running 12 plays inside the Minnesota 11-yard line in the first three quarters.

That was still better than the Vikings, who blew a perfect shot with 1:05 left in the second quarter. Minnesota got the ball on the Baltimore 10-yard line after Raven punter Kyle Richardson bobbled a low snap and then fell on the ball on fourth down.

But on Minnesota's next play, quarterback Spergon Wynn underthrew Randy Moss in the end zone and Chris McAlister intercepted.

Suddenly, the Ravens found some offense and Brandon Stokley took an Elvis Grbac pass 46 yards, the key play in a 60-yard drive that gave the Ravens their third field goal of the game, just as the first half expired.

The Vikings looked to be an easy target. They didn't have a shot at the playoffs. You could say they were playing for pride, but how much pride could a team that already lost to the Panthers and Lions have left?

Plus, they had all sorts of off-the-field issues, beginning with Coach Dennis Green being forced out late last week. Green jumped before he could be pushed, and negotiated a $5.4-million buyout to soften the landing.

Offensive line coach Mike Tice was named interim head coach. In interviews with television and print reporters at halftime, Viking owner Red McCombs said Tice is a strong candidate to get the job full-time. McCombs cited his strong working relationship with Tice, who joined the Viking staff two years before McCombs bought the team in 1998. A Viking source said Tice is the favorite for the job.

"The guys play hard for him, the guys love him," wide receiver Cris Carter said. "He's got a great rapport with the players. Randy [Moss] and Daunte [Culpepper] like him, and that says a lot."

Put it this way: Tice's chances of staying look better than Carter's. Carter said he will void his contract and give the Vikings the first chance to re-sign him, but that he also wants to play for a contending team.

"I think the Vikings are really rebuilding," Carter said. "I think we went from transition to rebuilding."

Meanwhile, the Ravens could be returning to Super Bowl form. That's only because they're getting back to the formula that won the championship last year: Iron-clad defense and ball-control offense.

The offense didn't put the ball in the end zone Monday night, but it did produce 212 yards rushing (133 by Terry Allen) and didn't have a turnover.

And the defense held Minnesota to 179 yards and scored the game's only touchdown, a late fumble return by linebacker Jamie Sharper. Peter Boulware had four sacks to finish as the AFC leader with 15.

With Wynn (the replacement for the injured Culpepper) struggling, Carter and Moss caught only seven passes between them.

So the Ravens still have a chance, overcoming a rash of injuries that included one to Jamal Lewis, last year's top rusher.

"We're definitely a team to be dealt with," Sharpe said. "We might not be the team to beat, but we're the team to deal with."

So there you go. The Ravens are in the playoffs. Deal with it.

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