Ravens banking on playoff experience

OWINGS MILLS -- There are built-in advantages, easily-identifiable edges and emotional intangibles that define nearly all legitimate Super Bowl contenders. Other than overwhelming talent and innovative schemes, another pivotal element that tends to trump NFL opponents in January and February is significant playoff experience.

In the case of the AFC North champion Baltimore Ravens, they're banking on the wisdom of several veterans with Super Bowl and playoff backgrounds to act as guideposts for their younger teammates.

Just over half the active roster has appeared in at least one playoff game, and the entire team has appeared in 118 separate postseason games.

"That's what's going to matter in the end," said quarterback Steve McNair, a veteran of nine playoff games who narrowly lost his lone Super Bowl to the St. Louis Rams when he was with the Tennessee Titans. "Especially when you're going to the playoffs, you need that experience. You need that luxury of having guys who have been in that situation before.

"We still have a long way to go as far as getting things accomplished. We still haven't played a perfect game yet, and I think it's coming."

It's one thing to talk about the playoffs. It's quite another to have already been in that situation.

Perhaps no player in the Ravens' locker room is as savvy about the postseason as four-time Pro Bowl defensive end Trevor Pryce.

His credibility is personified by his personality as much as his jewelry as the owner of two diamond-laden Super Bowl rings with the Denver Broncos.

"It's more valuable than probably anything else you could have, probably even more valuable than having a bye because you are going to have guys that know that the tempo of the game picks up," said Pryce, who made it to the AFC title game last season with the Broncos before losing to the eventual Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers. "You're going to have guys that know that at halftime during a playoff game, really, the score does become 0-0 and there is no next week if you lose.

"You are going to have guys that have been through that kind of war, that can say, ‘I've been through this, I've seen this happen before.' And I think we have a number of them."

Twenty six of the Ravens' 53 active players have been in at least one playoff game.

Plus, still remaining on the team, including offensive guard Edwin Mulitalo who's on injured reserve, from the 2000 Super Bowl team: middle linebacker Ray Lewis, running back Jamal Lewis, center Mike Flynn, kicker Matt Stover, cornerback Chris McAlister, offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden and linebacker Adalius Thomas.

"We've got a nice mix," said Ogden, who's recovering from a hyperextended toe that kept him out of the final two regular-season games. "We've got a few guys who have won a Super Bowl with this team, and we've got guys like Trevor Pryce, who won in Denver.

"We've got guys who have been to the playoffs, but we've got a lot of young guys, too, who are talented. Bart Scott, Terrell Suggs, who are up-and-comers. We are really going to need them to play well, too. It's a nice mix, and we're all talented players, so it should be really good for us."

As the No. 2 playoff seed in the AFC behind the San Diego Chargers, Baltimore (13-3) has a first-round bye and will host either the Indianapolis Colts, New York Jets or New England Patriots next weekend at M&T Bank Stadium.

During the Ravens' 2000 postseason run, they were the fourth seed and won four consecutive games to claim their lone Super Bowl title.

They were seeded fifth in 2001 when they lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers in the divisional round following a wild-card victory over the Miami Dolphins that represents their only playoff win since Super Bowl XXXV. They were seeded fourth in 2003 when they won their other division title, losing to McNair and the Titans.

Now, the Ravens, who enter the playoffs on a four-game winning streak and nine wins in their past 10 games, are hoping to reverse that negative playoff trend with a little advice and leadership.

"Even the veterans can draw on, ‘Geez, what was that like?'" Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "That experience is invaluable."

Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times in Westminster, Maryland.

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