AFC South: Baltimore Ravens
Shaking off the Hail Mary: The Ravens were able to come back to win in overtime after allowing a 51-yard Hail Mary touchdown to tie the game at the end of regulation. How was the atmosphere on the sideline? "It's disappointment, but you don't get disheartened," coach John Harbaugh said. "The game is not over. I'm proud of the fact that our guys looked at it that way. It's not something you have to go walking up and down the bench to make the point. We've got leadership all the way across the board. I'm really proud of them."
Looking to be a playmaker: Ravens safety James Ihedigbo didn't mince words when talking about his big game. "I look at myself as a great player, and that's what I aspire to be," he said. Ihedigbo had the first two interceptions of his career before tipping the pass on the game-tying Hail Mary touchdown. But he bounced back in the fourth quarter when he helped slow down Giovani Bernard on fourth down.
Then Tennessee collapsed in a playoff game after the 2000 season at what now is LP Field, losing 24-10 despite dominating the game in a lot of ways.
Since that fork in the road, the teams have gone in very different directions.
Writes Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean: “The Ravens went on to win the Super Bowl, and they will play for a second championship on Sunday in New Orleans against the San Francisco 49ers. The Titans, meanwhile, haven’t won a playoff game in nine years and are coming off a 6-10 season.”
But that’s not the line of demarcation I’ll use.
The 2008 Titans were the No. 1 seed in the AFC playoffs. The sixth-seeded Ravens won in Miami to earn another playoff trip to Nashville. And Tennessee lost that divisional round game in a similar fashion to the game in 2000, even though the score was a lot closer, 13-10.
- The Titans are 29-35 (.453) with no playoff appearances.
- The Ravens are 43-21 (.672) with a 6-3 playoff record.
That playoff meeting in Nashville was Joe Flacco’s second playoff game, and while he’s had his ups and downs, he’s now a Super Bowl quarterback.
Since then, the Titans have started Kerry Collins, Vince Young, Matt Hasselbeck, Jake Locker and, in an emergency situations, Rusty Smith.
Instability at quarterback is only part of the reasons the teams have been so different.
John Harbaugh has developed into a steady coach while Jeff Fisher’s tenure fizzled out and Mike Munchak hasn’t established any solid footing after two seasons.
Led by one of the NFL’s top general managers, Ozzie Newsome, the Ravens have continued good roster building.
The Titans actually have more starters and contributors out of their last four drafts, but it’s partly because of previous failures -- think Young, Adam "Pacman" Jones, Chris Henry, Paul Williams -- that so much opportunity is available.
Baltimore’s gotten far more production out of outside veterans it’s brought in: Center Matt Birk, receiver Anquan Boldin (via trade), fullback Vonta Leach, safety Bernard Pollard, resurgent left tackle Bryant McKinnie, receiver/returner Jacoby Jones.
Compare that to Tennessee’s veteran additions: Receiver Nate Washington, linebacker Will Witherspoon, quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, safety Jordan Babineaux, guard Steve Hutchinson, end Kamerion Wimbley, returner Darius Reynaud.
The Titans fired their offensive coordinator late in the 2012 season, and didn’t see much change with Dowell Loggains promoted to replace Chris Palmer.
The Ravens fired their offensive coordinator late in the 2012 season, and got a major boost from Jim Caldwell taking over for Cam Cameron.
It’s a copycat league, and the Ravens were already a model franchise in many ways.
The Titans are one of a long list of teams that need to look at how the Ravens work and borrow some ideas.
Quarterback is the key, but the gap between these two teams was a playoff field goal just four years ago. It’s a deep moat now.
So that you are not alarmed when they take the field on your TV, here’s a public service announcement. It’s Battle Red Day, which means the Texans will be in head-to-toe red uniforms. They look good when they win in them.
As far as altering any national perception, a good performance by the Texans will get dented as the New York and Minneapolis markets will likely be watching the rescheduled Giants-Vikings game from Detroit. People with the full NFL package on DirecTV will also be able to flip between the games.
The Texans have Owen Daniels active, but will start Joel Dreessen at tight end. The Ravens have Todd Heap inactive and will start Ed Dickson at tight end.
Be sure to join our Monday Night Live chat.
Texans: QB Matt Leinart, WR Dorin Dickerson, CB Brice McCain, S Quintin Demps, G Kasey Studdard, G Shelley Smith, TE Anthony Hill, TE Garrett Graham.
Ravens: CB Fabian Washington, FB Jason McKie, ILB Jason Phillips, ILB Daniel Ellerbe, DT Arthur Jones, OL Bryan Mattison, TE Todd Heap, DT Lamar Divens.
On passes that went 14 or fewer yards in the air, he was 29 of 37 for 226 yards, 6.1 yards an attempt, two touchdowns and an 89.1 passer rating.
Meanwhile after a field goal drive on the Ravens’ opening possession that provided Baltimore’s only points, Flacco also failed to do much downfield. He threw only five passes that traveled 10 yards or farther downfield, missing on all them -- except for the one that was picked off.
Manning is always willing to take what he can get. And it is a strategy he may have to lean on again Sunday against the Jets with the Super Bowl on the line.
The divisional round game will be a rematch of the Nov. 22 Colts’ 17-15 win at Baltimore.
Here’s a recap of that game.
Here’s my column from Baltimore that evening.
I’ll be back shortly with more of a look at the matchup.
You like it or wish things had panned out differently?
Derrick Mason was largely a self-made player. The Tennessee Oilers had high hopes for him when they drafted him out of Michigan State with a fourth-round pick.
But they had high hopes for the other eight receivers they drafted during the span of his eight-season career with the franchise, too. None of them panned out to be anything close to what Mason was.
I don't know if there were signs that Mason was contemplating retirement. While he said in his announcement that he felt he didn't have the drive to work out like he used to, I wonder too if the recent death of his longtime teammate and friend Steve McNair may have been one of the final factors.
Mason has always seemed to be a devoted family man, and he pledged to McNair's sons he would try to fill the void in their lives.
Not blessed with great speed, Mason was well-suited for the Oilers/Titans and Ravens, playing with a grit and a toughness and was not afraid to jaw at defenders.
He could go over the top sometimes and had a little clubhouse lawyer in him.
But I found him to be a class act, a stand-up guy and an impressively productive player. His 73 receptions in 2001 ended a five-season streak in which tight end Frank Wycheck led the franchise in catches. Mason grabbed 95 passes in 2003 and 96 in 2004, the most for the franchise since Haywood Jeffries pulled in 100 as part of 1991's run-and-shoot Houston Oilers, quarterbacked by Hall of Famer Warren Moon.
Mason played for a second franchise not because the Titans didn't want him, but because his contract was drawn up like many others that collectively prompted Tennessee's 2005 salary-cap purge.
Perhaps the most impressive thing that can be said about him is that during his time in Tennessee, when the team failed over and over trying to find top options at the position, he developed into a Pro Bowl receiver. (He was a receiver for the AFC in 2003, a return man in 2000.)
The only other Titans receiver in the 12 years since the franchise drafted Mason that produced a big season by league standards was Drew Bennett, undrafted in 2001, who caught 80 passes for 1,247 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2004.
|Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images|
|Titans quarterback Kerry Collins was under constant pressure from Baltimore's defense.|
Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Tennessee Titans were convinced nobody liked them. They were an unappreciated small-market team, a workmanlike bunch that lacked the gloss or controversy that sells or attracts attention.
As the hype around the Baltimore Ravens grew, they grumbled.
Then, on their home field with a chance to quiet the critics -- real or imagined -- they produced a dud similar in scope to the last time when they were the AFC's No. 1 seed.
With large statistical advantages across the board, they handed the ball away three times, missed a field goal, gave up a big pass play on each of Baltimore's three scoring drives and watched the Ravens, a wild-card team driven by defense, win 13-10 and celebrate on their turf just as they did in January 2001.
"We had a chance to prove our critics and our doubters wrong and we just didn't do it," defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch said. "It erases a great regular season. I think there are a lot of great things we take away from the season, but ultimately we are judged as players on what we do in the postseason and we just came up empty."
"I guess you all proved us wrong," Albert Haynesworth said. "I felt like we definitely should have won this game, it shouldn't have been close. But the way things turned out, too many mistakes and not enough time."
Jeff Fisher, the league's longest-tenured coach, is now 5-6 in the playoffs, with a first-game loss in three of his six playoff seasons.
|Highlights of the Ravens' 13-10 victory over the Titans on Saturday.|
"He just felt for everybody, he knew that everyone was hurting," special-teamer and backup linebacker Ryan Fowler said. "He expressed his gratitude and his sorrow for the team. He said this was one of those things that was going to be hard to get over, but we'll get over it eventually and see you guys on Monday."
Players talked about the magnitude of the lost opportunity and recounted their mistakes.
Running back LenDale White lost a fumble just before halftime, with the Titans in range of a field goal that would have put them ahead 10-7.
"The momentum with the fumble that I had before the half, if we'd have been able to get three points right there, probably could have boosted us up in the second half," White said. "So I am definitely taking the blame for losing this game. I feel like I could have stepped up a lot more, I could have held on to the ball and gave us momentum going into the second half."
He said a 10-game Ravens-Titans series would produce nine Tennessee wins.
Tight end Alge Crumpler spoke softly of a pass he coughed up near the goal line and the disappointment of the sudden ending.
"This is the sickest feeling I ever had," he said. "This team was ready to take the next step. I firmly believed this was a Super Bowl team and felt the magic when I first walked in the locker room. This hurts because we didn't get it done.''
Strong safety Chris Hope was unable to make a play on the Ravens' two longest pass connections -- he was late to get to Derrick Mason on a 48-yard touchdown pass and got mixed up with Cortland Finnegan on a 37-yard pass to Mark Clayton.
Finnegan, a recently anointed All-Pro, said the Ravens tried to avoid him but probably shouldn't have.
"The one time they went to me, they got action," he said with a forced laugh. "I would have kept going at me."
Eight seasons ago, in very similar circumstances, a Titans team that included only three of the same players statistically dominated Baltimore and watched its Super Bowl hopes disappear in a fourth-quarter collapse.
Leading up to this game, those players dismissed that history and talked of writing a new ending.
Instead they allowed the Ravens an encore.
Fisher will review the season in a Monday news conference when players clean out their lockers. By then, he will have found multiple ways to spin things positively. His team overachieved and surpassed expectations, but as it did, it gained the most advantageous position and setup possible. It was an eight-year wait from the last time they were in this spot, and if it's another eight, who knows who might be left to recount this experience and cross fingers that Baltimore isn't the opponent.
"All the hard work you did, all the dreams you had at the beginning of the season just go down the drain in one game," Hope said. "The thing is that you don't have the same team next year, nothing is guaranteed."
Quarterback Kerry Collins said: "Right now, it's hard to feel good about this year. I know we really accomplished a lot, put ourselves in position to make a run at it. But when you fall short it's hard to see the positives. I know there are some, I think we all need to realize that, but it's disappointing to end like this. To think that we'll feel any better about it because of our regular season I think is not going to be the case."
On a third-and-2 play early in what turned out to be the winning drive, the play clock hit zero for two seconds before the Ravens snapped the ball. Joe Flacco hit tight end Todd Heap up the seam for a 23-yard gain to the Titans' 45-yard line.
But the officials didn't call delay of game.
"The back judge [Bob Lawing] is responsible for that," referee Terry McAulay said. "He has the clock. When it hits zero [on the play clock], which is high here [on the scoreboards], he goes to the ball.
"So there is going to be a natural delay from zero to getting to the ball. And when he gets to the ball, if it is being snapped, we don't call it. So there can be a natural delay."
McAulay explained that is not a reviewable play. Matt Stover eventually ended the drive with a 43-yard field goal inside the final minute.
At least some Titans believed Flacco, in a shotgun formation, had stepped out of the back of the end zone on a third down play from the Ravens' 1-yard line. A safety would have cut the Ravens' lead to 10-9 and given the Titans the ball.
"That was me," McAulay said of the official responsible for making that call. "In my opinion, he did not step on the line. There was green, or whatever color was between the end line and his foot."
The Ravens punted away, and the Titans drove for a game-tying 27-yard field goal.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Set up by an excellent regular season with the best possible path to the AFC Championship Game, the Titans failed in grand style to seize a rare opportunity they talked of relishing.
With three turnovers, a missed field goal, too many penalties and numerous untimely errors, the Titans did their part to help a cleaner Baltimore team advance.
Cue the debate about the meaning of that 13-3 regular season record, Jeff Fisher's playoff legacy and the team's inability to succeed on offense once its one dynamic player -- running back Chris Johnson -- was sidelined with an ankle injury.
|Highlights of the Ravens 13-10 victory over the Titans in the AFC Divisional Playoff.|
Now a team that often got wrapped up in the perceived doubts about its potential has to answer for why it failed to live up to it.
When asked about the January 2001 game here under similar circumstances, these Titans said history meant nothing.
That time, the top-seeded Titans outplayed the wild card Ravens in a lot of ways and got clobbered by big plays for a drastic ending of a season they fully expected to end with a Super Bowl appearance in Tampa.
This team wrote its own history.
The sequel was a lot like the original.
Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Running back Chris Johnson is out of the game for the Titans with an ankle injury.
The team said his return is questionable.
He's been a major difference-maker with 11 carries for 72 yards and a 28-yard catch and the Titans will not be the same if he cannot return.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- If Saturday's playoff game between the Baltimore Ravens and Tennessee Titans comes down to a late field goal attempt, the direction will be significant if pregame warmups are any indicator.
Titans kicker Rob Bironas and Ravens kicker Matt Stover both had trouble kicking toward the north end zone -- heading left on your TV screen. Although the upright flags weren't whipping around much, attempts seemed to hit a wall near the goal line.
Stover twice missed from 47 yards, and again from 49 yards and 50 yards in that direction.
Both kickers were more successful with line drives from longer range, but that will increase the likelihood of a block.
Fans will recall a similar situation in January 2001, when the wild-card Ravens came into Nashville and beat the top-seeded Titans.Al Del Greco's field goal attempt into the same end zone was a blocked line drive that Anthony Mitchell returned 90 yards for a touchdown to break open a 10-10 game.
Bironas was crushing the ball when kicking toward the south end zone, nailing one from 61 yards. He also made tries from 58 (barely) and 54 yards.
Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The inactives for the Ravens-Titans game are in and include no major surprises.
Tennessee receiver Paul Williams, who was active for only five regular-season games, is up, while receiver Lavelle Hawkins, who played in 13 games, is down. Watch to see how much of a chance Williams is given to contribute on special teams.
What initially seemed like an improbable story has turned into a situation some fans are reading as Benedict McNair.
Jim Wyatt first reported Steve McNair, who played 11 seasons for the Titans and two for the Ravens, was slated to be part of a Ravens "Purple Pep Rally" in Nashville Friday. Then McNair's manager clarified and said McNair would do no such thing. Now McNair is back in, and says it's all about raising money for charity.
"This is a charity event I'm doing for the Ronald McDonald House in Baltimore and that's it," McNair told WRRN-TV in Nashville. "It doesn't have anything to do with the Ravens or the Titans. I'm gonna be there because I'm not gonna disappoint these kids.
"People want to say it's about the Ravens, it's not about the Ravens. It's not about Tennessee. It's about these kids from the Ronald McDonald House and I can put a smile on their face. If this taints my image I'm going to be very disappointed because that'll tell me that people [do not] care about me raising money to help kids. That's selfish."