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Battered, bruised Ravens pass their physical

1/10/2009

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- A cynic could find so many excuses why the Baltimore Ravens won Saturday.

Lucky plays. Iffy officiating. Not having to face a game-breaker for most of the afternoon.

The Ravens aren't interested in justifying their 13-10 AFC divisional playoffs victory over the Tennessee Titans. For the second straight week, they went on the road and hammered a divisional champion into submission.

The wild-card Ravens are headed to the AFC Championship Game, and they're not one bit apologetic about it.

"Our guys just found a way to get them stopped when they had to," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "There is nobody to blame on that."

To call the Ravens a team of destiny would be rather melodramatic. They'll visit the winner of Sunday night's San Diego Chargers at Pittsburgh Steelers showdown.

The Ravens lost both of their games against the Steelers by a combined seven points, the first one in overtime. The Ravens didn't play the Chargers.

But Saturday at LP Field, Baltimore sure looked like a team of destiny with all of the breaks that went its way.

  • Tennessee committed three turnovers in Baltimore territory, including an Alge Crumpler fumble on the 1-yard line in the fourth quarter with Baltimore ahead, 10-7.

  • A delay of game penalty was not called on a third-down conversion that kept the Ravens' winning drive alive late in the fourth quarter, a drive that ended with Matt Stover's game-winning 43-yard field goal with 53 seconds remaining.

  • The Titans were without rookie running back Chris Johnson for the second half. He was well on his way to having the best ground game of any Ravens' opponent with 72 yards on 11 carries.

  • Tennessee kicker Rob Bironas pushed a 51-yard field-goal attempt wide left in the third quarter, one play after a 5-yard Bo Scaife catch was negated by replay.

  • Baltimore's first 10 points were the result of long Joe Flacco pass plays, including a 37-yard pass to Mark Clayton, who sorted through double coverage from Pro Bowlers Cortland Finnegan and Chris Hope to come up with the ball.

But great teams make their own breaks, and the Ravens' afternoon wasn't exactly a frolic under the rainbow

Pro Bowl outside linebacker Terrell Suggs suffered a sprained right shoulder and missed the second half. A bad ankle forced Pro Bowl running back Le'Ron McClain off the field for several snaps. Four-time Pro Bowl tackle Willie Anderson was in and out with a stinger. Cornerback Samari Rolle left the game in the second half with a groin injury.

"It was a heavyweight fight," Suggs said. "We would have been happy if nobody got injured, but it was a dogfight, and there was a lot of bloodshed."

So the Ravens didn't want to hear any whining about the Titans' offense being short-handed without Johnson.

"We're not going to feel sorry for these guys," Ravens linebacker Bart Scott said. "We've got five starters on this defense that barely made it past Week 5.

"It was a physical game. We try to do that against any back. We try to make it physical, make it a rough day for them. Sometimes they don't hold up."

Sometimes the odds don't hold up either. Titans running back LenDale White said afterward his team would beat the Ravens nine times out of 10, and Saturday happened to be the exception.

The Titans had a statistical edge in every category aside from turnovers. They outgained the Ravens 391-211 and had the ball more than eight minutes longer.

The Titans limited the Ravens to nine first downs and held the league's No. 4 run offense to 50 yards rushing. McClain ran 12 times for 12 yards. Willis McGahee had 12 carries for 32 yards, and 11 of those came on one play.

Flacco was a nondescript 11 of 22 for 161 yards. But he completed two long passes, one for a 48-yard touchdown to Derrick Mason and the 37-yard completion to Clayton that set up Stover's first field goal.

"Our offense struggled a bit," Mason said.

The difference, though, was the Ravens' defense.

It's always the defense.

They were pushed around but came up with critical plays when it mattered.

Although the Titans lost only two of them, they fumbled five times. In addition to Crumpler's costly fumble on the doorstep, White lost one on the Ravens' 15-yard line right before halftime.

Kerry Collins threw an interception Rolle tracked down at the Ravens' 9-yard line to end a drive that started on the Titans 1-yard line and lasted 13 meaningless plays.

"They were moving the ball," Scott said. "They were doing a great job. They were breaking tackles. We just continued to fight and refused to let them in. We made the plays we had to.

"We'll take it any way we can get it."