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Game 18: Ravens resemble 2000 team in topping Titans

Gritty defense, opportunistic offense, breaks from officials help in victory

By Jamison Hensley | jamison.hensley@baltsun.com

January 11, 2009

NASHVILLE, TENN.

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Conjuring up memories and magic of their last Super Bowl run, the wild-card Ravens once again knocked off the top-seeded Tennessee Titans in an AFC divisional playoff game yesterday.

Matt Stover's 43-yard field goal with 53 seconds left in the game lifted the Ravens to an improbable 13-10 victory over the Titans and stunned another sellout crowd at LP Field.

Inspired by a timely offense, a stubborn defense and a rare break by the officials, the Ravens (13-5) became just the second sixth seed in NFL playoff history to upset a top seed.

The Ravens advanced to the AFC championship game for the first time in eight years, where they will play at the winner of today's San Diego Chargers- Pittsburgh Steelers game.

While this playoff game at Tennessee lacked a blocked field goal, this classic was still reminiscent of how the Ravens prevailed in a game in which they were statistically beaten.

"That [2000] team was great, [but] we can't be compared to that team," linebacker Bart Scott said. "That team has its own identity, and we're trying to create our own."

These Ravens won with big plays. A 48-yard touchdown pass from rookie quarterback Joe Flacco to Derrick Mason tied the score at 7. A 23-yarder from Flacco to Todd Heap on third down set up the game-winning field goal in the fourth quarter.

These Ravens won with a stubborn defense. After giving up a touchdown in the first quarter, the Ravens allowed the Titans to get inside their 40-yard line six more times but surrendered only a field goal. The Ravens' defense forced three turnovers on its own side of the field.

These Ravens won with some help from the officials. In a season in which it seemed as if they never got a break from the officiating crew, the Ravens got a big one yesterday: no penalty when the play clock expired before Flacco's 23-yard pass to Heap on the game-winning drive.

"In the end, our guys found a way to win," first-year Ravens head coach John Harbaugh said. "They made their share of plays, too. But we made the ones that made the difference."

In the 2000 season, the Ravens beat the Titans despite being out-gained 317-134 in total yards and 23-6 in first downs. Yesterday, the Ravens won despite being out-gained 391-211 in total yards and 21-9 in first downs.

The difference between the 2000 Ravens and this season's team came down to the offense stepping up a critical times yesterday.

After the Titans tied the score at 10, the Ravens answered immediately - albeit with some help. Flacco threw a 23-yard pass down the seam to Heap, converting a third down on a play that shouldn't have counted. The play clock had expired by a couple of seconds, but referee Terry McAulay tried to offer an explanation.

"When [the clock] hits zero, which is high here, [the back judge] goes to the ball," McAulay said after the game. "So there is going to be a natural delay from zero to getting to the ball."

On the next third down, Flacco connected with Mark Clayton for an 8-yard pass, which was a yard short of the first down but set up Stover.

One of two active Ravens remaining from that 2000 team (linebacker Ray Lewis is the other), Stover perfectly hit the first playoff game-winner of his 19-year career.

Asked to rank this kick among the others in his career, Stover said: "I would say this would be No.1. But we got some more kicks to go. Let's just be humble about that."

Stover declined to draw any comparisons to the 2000 playoffs, and Titans coach Jeff Fisher also wasn't in the mood for nostalgia.

Yeah, same teams [and] probably the same situation," Fisher said, "but different players."

As he has done so many times this season, Flacco didn't flinch. With the score tied at 10, he took over at his 24 with 4:17 left and one timeout. Flacco was his usual calm self, completing two of three passes on the Ravens' final series for 31 of the drive's 51 yards.

"It's the same as any other drive," Flacco said of the biggest drive of his rookie season.

The Ravens' defense also never panicked. The Ravens couldn't keep the Titans out of their territory, but they kept them off the scoreboard.

After Tennessee scored its touchdown, the Titans marched five times inside the Ravens' 40 and didn't produce a point.

A look at those series:

•On fourth-and-eight from the Ravens' 30, Tennessee quarterback Kerry Collins fumbled a snap out of the shotgun.

•On third-and-eight from the Ravens' 32, Collins was pressured by Ravens safety Jim Leonhard and was intercepted by cornerback Samari Rolle.

•On third-and-four from the Ravens' 22, Tennessee running back LenDale White (who was replacing the injured Chris Johnson) fumbled after getting hit by outside linebacker Jarret Johnson. Leonhard recovered.

•After John Harbaugh's replay challenge overturned a 5-yard catch for the Titans, Tennessee kicker Rob Bironas missed just wide left on a 51-yard field-goal attempt.

•Then, on second-and-nine at the Ravens' 13, Crumpler fumbled only a few yards from the goal line after getting hit by Scott and Leonhard. Fabian Washington recovered.

"We have a slogan here: They're not in 'til they're in," Scott said.

The Titans' offense was slowed because of the loss of Johnson, who injured his ankle in the second quarter. The speedy rookie had 72 rushing yards and a touchdown in the first half.

"We're not going to feel sorry for these guys," Scott said. "We try to make it physical, make it a rough day for them. Sometimes they don't hold up."

The game will go down as one of the Ravens' most physical of the season, from Lewis' hit that dislodged fullback Ahmard Hall's helmet to the number of players who got banged up. Offensive tackle Willie Anderson (stinger), Washington (shoulder stinger), running back Le'Ron McClain (ankle), defensive end-linebacker Terrell Suggs (shoulder sprain) and Rolle (groin) missed parts of the game because of injuries.

But the Ravens persevered and sit one game away from returning to the Super Bowl in Tampa, Fla.

Just like the 2000 season, the Ravens have begun asking the question: "Why not us?"

"It's a four-game tournament, and we're at the final four," Scott said. "This thing's wide open, and anybody can win it."


Harbaugh's challenge
With 10:05 left in the third quarter, Ravens coach John Harbaugh challenged what looked like a completion to Titans tight end Bo Scaife. With the catch, the Titans would have had about a 45-yard field-goal try. But Harbaugh saw Scaife bobble the ball before getting his second foot in bounds, making it incomplete. The completion was overturned after video review, and the Titans had to settle for a 51-yard field-goal try. Rob Bironas' kick had plenty of distance but missed wide left. The score remained tied at 7.