OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- With success comes recognition, and in that regard the Baltimore Ravens already have enjoyed a productive season.
Perceived primarily as The Team Formerly Known As The Cleveland Browns, the Ravens completed their first four years in relative anonymity. Although a handful of their players received acclaim, the team never finished above .500 and still hasn't played on Monday night.
Baltimore finally got noticed this season, going 12-4 behind a defense that set a record for fewest points allowed in a 16-game season. Then, after reaching the playoffs for the first time, the Ravens started making noise, literally.
Their brash talk in the days leading up to last Sunday's game against the defending AFC-champion Tennessee Titans was merely an extension of the we-get-no-respect stance they adopted on the first day of training camp.
If they were to be perceived as trash talkers, so be it.
"I don't care. Anything to get us noticed," linebacker Jamie Sharper said.
"We respected Tennessee. But we just felt we didn't get the respect that we deserved," tight end Shannon Sharpe said. "Everybody thought it was a fluke that we made it this far. I think we proved that whatever recognition that has come our way, we are deserving of that."
The 24-10 upset of the Titans thrust Baltimore into Sunday's AFC championship game. Now, it's impossible to overlook the Ravens, whose 14 victories and nine-game winning streak are both best in the NFL this season.
"When it gets down to four teams, it's hard to ignore after a while," coach Brian Billick said. "I think we're getting our just recognition right now, being in the AFC championship game. That's not the ultimate goal, obviously. We know what our ultimate goal is. But it's nice to have people nationally recognize that, hey, these guys are for real."
All season long, Billick wondered aloud if the NFL had little regard for the Ravens. He cited a schedule that began with five of seven games on the road, pointing out that no other team had to endure such a stretch.
Billick also figured the league would have the Ravens open the playoffs on a Saturday, because only the big games are televised on Sunday. As it turned out, Baltimore hosted Denver on Sunday during the first weekend of the postseason.
After the Ravens beat the Broncos, few gave them a shot against the top-seeded Titans. By becoming the only team in this year's playoffs to win on the road, the Ravens finally bulled their way into prominence.
"People in this city have embraced us, and now people nationwide know about the Ravens because we're in the AFC championship game," Sharper said.
The last time they played, the Ravens snapped the Raiders' five-game winning streak with a 13-10 win in 1998.
"They didn't even know who we were when they came into PSINet Stadium and played us that day," Sharper said. "This year, they know."
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