Ravens have had Broncos' number

OWINGS MILLS — This element of a football rivalry doesn't directly account for a single point, block or tackle. <P> Beyond the scoreboard, though, history suggests that the Baltimore Ravens possess a certain psychological advantage over the Denver Broncos.

Based on prior meetings heading into Sunday's game at M&T Bank Stadium, the Ravens (3-3) have essentially owned the Broncos (5-2).

With the exception of a 45-34 Denver win during the Ravens' inaugural season when Ted Marchibroda was still the coach, Baltimore has gone undefeated in three games against the Broncos under Ravens coach Brian Billick.

Despite entering last year's game winless, Baltimore won a Monday night encounter, 34-23, behind a 31-point outburst in the second quarter.

That first half was punctuated by cornerback Chris McAlister returning Jason Elam's missed field goal 107 yards for a touchdown on the longest play in league history.

"They have just played better," said Denver coach Mike Shanahanan, whose last playoff game was a loss to Baltimore. "They kicked us pretty good in the playoffs. I felt we had a chance to win it last year, but they got the job done and we didn't.

"In the Monday night game last year, they just dominated the second quarter. We lost our poise a little bit."

On his way to a season-high 20 tackles, linebacker Ray Lewis stymied Broncos running back Clinton Portis for 55 yards on eight carries.

Lewis also devastated linebacker Keith Burns with a crackback block to free McAlister on his return.

"There was a lot of hard hitting in that game," Lewis said. "I hit that one guy on Chris' return. I don't know who he was, but it was a hard hit."

There was also first blocked punt in team history by safety Ed Reed to set up a touchdown along with picking off one of Brian Griese's three interceptions.

And Billick recalled his run up the sidelines where he attempted to stay with McAlister with his hands flailing in the air.

"The speed with which I got down the sideline following Chris McAlister, staying with him step by step, shocking America at how fast I am," Billick said.

Plus, the Ravens took a 21-3 victory in the AFC wild-card game over the Broncos on the way to earning a Super Bowl title.

In that game, tight end Shannon Sharpe scored on an unusual 58-yard touchdown pass from Trent Dilfer that was bobbled by Jamal Lewis, ricocheted off Denver cornerback Terrell Buckley and corralled by Sharpe.

Sharpe dodged a tackle, turned up the right sideline and got a timber-rattling block from fullback Sam Gash on Bill Romanowski and a key downfield block from Patrick Johnson to complete the score.

Now, Sharpe is back with the Broncos as their second-leading receiver with 29 catches for four touchdowns.

"When I was with the Ravens, we thought that we could be more physical than the Broncos could," Sharpe said. "That's what Brian teaches. I think every coach teaches that, ‘We can be more physical than this team. This is a finesse team. Once you hit them in the mouth, they are going to react a certain way.'

"I'm sure that Brian is still preaching that same thing."

Between, the playoff win, last year's unexpected triumph and a 20-13 win at Denver two years ago, Baltimore has won three games in a row in the series by a combined score of 75-39.

The past wins don't discount what Denver has accomplished, though, in the Ravens' eyes, against the rest of the league.

The Broncos are a highly-regarded NFL franchise with a 101-63 record under Shanahan along with consecutive Super Bowl titles in the 1997 and 1998 seasons.

"Things have fallen our way to a certain degree," Billick said. "The matchups are pretty good. They are an outstanding team.

"The wins against Denver have been very satisfying to us because of the amount of respect that we have for that organization."

This latest encounter will likely feature a heavy emphasis on the running game.

Ravens rookie quarterback Kyle Boller has a mildly sprained left shoulder and Denver is down to third-string passer Danny Kanell because of injuries to Jake Plummer and Steve Beuerlein.

The Ravens' offensive centerpiece is NFL rushing leader Jamal Lewis, and Denver's third-ranked running game is led by Portis.

Fast starts have characterized each of the Ravens' wins in the past over Denver.

"I think any time you have beaten them the past two or three years, you have that edge," Ray Lewis said. "The thing is we have to really go in and not try to use that as a ‘We can beat this team all the time,' because Denver is a great team.

"I think the thing that we did in all of those games is we jumped out fast on them. By the time we jumped out fast on them, their offense couldn't come back."

Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times.

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