The past year seems to have renewed the old Ravens-Titans rivalry. With a crushing playoff loss for the Ravens last year and the Titans’ antics in Baltimore this season before beating the Ravens again, the nastiness of days gone feels like it might be back.
This game was always going to be judged as a do-or-die game, whether fair or not. Lamar Jackson was always going to be judged on whether or not he could win a playoff game. Greg Roman was always going to be judged on whether or not he could stay ahead of defenses.
Most importantly, it’s the playoffs, which are do-or-die by nature. This team and fanbase knew from the moment the clock hit zero last January that the only thing that would matter this season was what happened this January. This was a season with no room for excuses, despite the many trials the team faced on their way to the playoffs.
It was only right these two would meet again, 364 days after the previous postseason matchup, both 11-5 in the wildcard round, to continue this storied rivalry.
The Ravens’ healthy and energized defense came out to a hot start, forcing a quick three-and-out on the Titans. Disappointingly, the Ravens offense was dealt the same fate and trotted off the field after three short plays themselves.
On the Titans next possession, AJ Brown started to go to work, picking up gains of 28 and 14 to put the Titans into Baltimore territory. Pernell McPhee stood out in stopping Derrick Henry on the drive and Matt Judon added a big tackle for loss of his own in the red zone. None of this would matter much, however, as Brown soon bulled over Marlon Humphrey in the end zone for a jump ball touchdown to give him 52 yards and a score on one drive to put Tennessee up 7-0.
The Ravens’ second possession looked like it was off to a good start, with Marquise Brown getting his first catch of the day and Gus Edwards quickly following with a first down conversion. Things went sour quickly, however, as Lamar Jackson lofted up a “gimme” ball to Malcolm Butler, who happily obliged with an interception to give the Titans the ball a third time.
The Titans offense came back out and immediately moved into Ravens territory for a second time on a 35-yard catch and run by Anthony Firkser. Luckily, the defense held strong after Justin Madubuike swatted down a Ryan Tannehill pass and the attempt on the following play floated out of bounds. Veteran Stephen Gostkowski came out and converted to make it 10-0 Titans.
The third Ravens drive nearly brought on full dread for fans before Lamar rolled out and converted a big third down to Andrews 17 yards down the right sideline. A few plays later and Jackson found Brown down the same sideline for a 28-yard pickup to put Baltimore in the red zone. A sack on third down would end the drive, but they importantly walked away with three points thanks to the leg of Justin Tucker.
The defense held up their end of the bargain, frustrating Henry with more line of scrimmage tackles as Tennessee struggled to get the ground game going. A third down sack of Tannehill by Derek Wolfe gave the ball back to the Ravens with 6:43 left in the half.
Marquise Brown came off the sideline still hot, picking up nine on the first play and another 15 three play later. The big money play came on the following third down, as Lamar finally found a seam in the defense and broke it for 48 yards and a score to tie up the game.
The defense came back out and right away got to work with Jihad Ward tipping a pass back into Tannehill’s hands and taking him down for a 10-yard loss on first down. A punt three plays later would prove the impact of that play.
The Ravens would get the ball back for a final attempt before the half, but a handful of miscues would lead them off the field as they punted from 21 yards behind the sticks with 12 seconds left before halftime.
Coming out of the half, Pat Ricard started to get involved a bit, catching an 11-yard pass on the first play and gathering another for six later in the drive. Despite the great run defense by Tennessee, Lamar still managed to break one for 23 to put the Ravens just outside the Titans’ red zone.
Ricard then caught another first down reception before JK Dobbins punched in his first career postseason touchdown to send the Ravens ahead 17-10.
The Titans did end up converting one first down on their next drive, but their offense continued to hit walls and was forced to punt soon after with the Ravens’ D continuing to make strong plays.
The Ravens offense didn’t manage much more on their possession, quickly going three-and-out after a Lamar Jackson keeper resulted in a loss on third down.
The Titans’ next drive started with a bang with AJ Brown picking up 15 before another 15 was tacked on from a roughing the passer call on Wolfe. They drove their way down to the Baltimore five, but were promptly held short after a big pressure by Pat Queen that forced a short Henry reception, stopped behind the line by LJ Fort. A Gostkowski field goal brought it to 17-13 Ravens.
Marquise Brown came back again with some big plays to start the Ravens’ next drive, ripping off gains of 20 and 17 before hobbling off the field to deal with some cramps. This would not amount to much, though, as the drive ended with a rare miss by Justin Tucker from 52 yards out to keep the score 17-13.
The Titans once again failed to do much with the ball, getting few solid gains out of AJ Brown and Derrick Henry before punting the ball back to the Ravens.
The Ravens’ crew of contributors showed up yet again on their next drive. JK, Lamar, and Mark Andrews pushed the ball into Titans territory before a very fishy offensive pass interference call on Willi Snead IV—on a normal pick play that other teams run about 20 times a game, I must add—forced Tucker to make good on his prior miss and knock through a 51-yarder to make it 20-13 Ravens.
The Titans set off on a drive they hoped would tie the game, methodically and with Ryan Tannehill converting a 4th & 1 with a QB sneak. Marcus Peters would demonstrate why Steve Bisciotti volunteered to sign his paychecks shortly after, picking a pass from Tannehill and promptly stomping on the flaming thumbtack on the 50-yard line in Nashville.
The reigning MVP got off to a quick start on the next drive, barreling down the right sideline for a big 33-yard gain. A few more runs by Gus Edwards and the deal was sealed, 20-13.
Fans of the Ravens have waited a long time for a playoff win and they got one here today. They shut down Derrick Henry, eliminated AJ Brown, and sent the Titans home early. This is just the first notch in the belt for Lamar, as he will need to at least make it to an AFC Championship to shut his doubters up. Until then, enjoy the win.
Maybe next time they should hire a defensive coordinator.
Ravens 20, Titans 17.