American Football: Ravens find the old rhythm

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The Independent Online

Ray Lewis and the Baltimore Ravens are back on course to defend their Super Bowl title. The Ravens, who dominated the NFL last season with their defence, have struggled to find their rhythm on both sides of the ball for much of this campaign and they needed to beat Minnesota on Monday to qualify for the play-offs. Against the struggling Vikings they prevailed 19-3.

The Ravens (10-6) will be the AFC's fifth seed and travel to Miami on Sunday to meet the Dolphins (11-5) in the wild card round. Baltimore's victory eliminated the Seattle Seahawks from contention for the play-offs.

Afterwards, Lewis made it clear that he is optimistic about the Ravens' future. "Everyone has to fight to get to the play-offs no matter what your record," said the linebacker who was the MVP at Super Bowl XXXV. "Once you're in, you're in. It's a whole new season now."

The defence also played solidly and finally resembled the unit that set an NFL record for the fewest points (165) conceded in a 16-game season last year.

The Ravens coach, Brian Billick, said: "The defence as a whole was incredible, when you can shut down a Randy Moss and a Cris Carter, that's something. The last three weeks our defence is showing its return to the form that we had last year."

The quarterback, Elvis Grbac, was less than impressive against the Vikings, but there were encouraging signs in the Baltimore back field. Terry Allen, signed after a pre-season injury to Jamal Lewis, had his best effort of the campaign against his former team. The 33-year-old back carried 23 times for 133 yards.

The linebacker Jamie Sharper put a stamp on the defensive performance, picking up a fumble by the Vikings quarterback, Spergon Wynn, and returning it eight yards for a touchdown with under two minutes remaining. It was the Ravens' first fumble return for a score in the team's history.