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Ravens, Dolphins Hope to Get a Grip

Pro football: AFC wild-card game between the low-scoring teams could turn on turnovers.

January 13, 2002|From Associated Press

MIAMI — Combine dominating defenses with turnover-prone offenses led by erratic quarterbacks and you've got today's playoff game between the Baltimore Ravens and Miami Dolphins.

Should be a bruising, low-scoring game, right?

"It'll be 69-68," Raven Coach Brian Billick joked.

Not likely. One touchdown may be enough to win, which means one turnover may be enough to lose.

For both teams, the goal will be to stay away from the giveaway.

"It's always a factor in the playoffs," Miami quarterback Jay Fiedler said. "Every mistake is magnified."

That's another thing the teams have in common: mistakes.

If Miami (11-5) and Baltimore (10-6) had taken better care of the ball this season, they would have won their divisions and earned a first-round bye. But the Ravens and Dolphins ranked near the bottom in the NFL with 36 and 38 turnovers, respectively.

"It's like looking in a mirror," Miami Coach Dave Wannstedt said.

For the Ravens, turnovers have been the biggest change from last season, when they won the Super Bowl. In 2000, Baltimore led the NFL with a turnover differential of plus-23. This season the Ravens rank 23rd at minus-eight.

The Dolphins were even worse, tying for 27th at minus-10. In the five games they lost, the Dolphins committed 20 turnovers and forced none.

"You can't afford to turn it over," Dolphin tight end Hunter Goodwin said. "One time could cost you the game. We just have to be careful with the ball and not do anything too fancy."

The same goes for the Ravens, who committed 22 turnovers and forced only five in games they lost.

"There are only so many opportunities with the ball in the playoffs," quarterback Elvis Grbac said. "You've got to take care of the prize that you have."

Both quarterbacks have struggled, but Fiedler has become more careful with the ball, while Grbac has gotten sloppier. Grbac threw for 28 touchdowns with 14 interceptions last season for Kansas City; this season he has 15 touchdown passes and 18 interceptions. The Ravens are 0-5 when he has at least two passes picked off.

Fiedler has thrown 20 touchdown passes and 19 interceptions, but in the last seven games has thrown for 11 touchdowns with four interceptions. He considers his improvement a reflection of experience gained as a second-year starter.

"The big key is decision-making," he said.

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