NASHVILLE, Tenn. - The Ravens got the last word with a last-second stand.
Stuffing the Titans' Steve McNair on a quarterback sneak, the Ravens prevailed by seconds and inches for a 16-10 triumph over Tennessee last night in the final - and possibly most memorable - installment of this bitter divisional rivalry.
"By far it's the craziest game I've ever been a part of," defensive tackle Tony Siragusa said. "[Defensive coordinator] Marvin [Lewis] called maximus blitz. That means everyone is going in. We knew they were going to come with the quarterback sneak. But we've got a lot up front."
Providing a classic finish in their Monday Night Football debut, the Ravens (6-3) won for the third time at Adelphia Coliseum to stay a half game off the AFC Central lead and now have five of their final seven regular-season games at home. The Titans (3-5), who are 18-1 at home against the rest of the league, watched their playoff chances take a major hit by the Ravens' goal line stand.
"I expect my check in the mail from ABC tomorrow," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "Finally had a Monday night game that was worth staying up for. Unbelievable. Unbelievable sequence of events."
On the 15th play of the game-ending 77-yard drive, McNair connected on a 5-yard pass to receiver Kevin Dyson, who was stopped at the 1-yard line by Jamie Sharper and Duane Starks with 11 seconds remaining and Tennessee out of timeouts.
Rushing under center, McNair dived behind center Bruce Matthews for the apparent tying touchdown, but Ravens linebacker Peter Boulware was jumping across the middle of the line at the time of the snap, trying to get on the Ravens' side of the ball.
Since he made contact with an offensive player before the touchdown, offsides was called, the score was taken off the scoreboard and the play was ruled dead. The Ravens were penalized half the distance to the goal line, and their defensive pride was placed on the line.
With three seconds left and backed to their 1-yard line, the Ravens received a push by defensive tackle Sam Adams to clog the middle for McNair. Then, as McNair tried to escape to the right side, Ravens safety Corey Harris made the first hit, and Sharper and Ray Lewis finished him off a half yard from the goal line to preserve the win.
"Penetration baby, penetration," Adams said.
The wild finish was set up by a series of twists.
The first half closed with a Ravens touchdown and a Titans field goal getting wiped away.
Diving on third-and-inches with 2:09 left in the second quarter, McNair watched the ball pop in the air when he hit the ground. Ravens safety Rod Woodson picked up the ball and ran down the left side 69 yards for a touchdown with 1:45 left in the second quarter. But the referees overturned the score on replay, ruling that McNair's elbow was on the ground before fumbling.
The drive continued and looked to have ended on a 24-yard field goal by Nedney. However, the Titans' Brian Natkin, a practice squad player recently signed to replace injured tight end Erron Kinney, was called for holding.
On what was now a 34-yard attempt, the snap by Matthews sailed high and pulled holder Craig Hentrich to an upright position. He had no choice but to take off. Getting chased down by Chris McAlister, Hentrich had to hurry his throw and was intercepted by Duane Starks in the end zone with 14 seconds left in the second quarter to end the half at a scoreless tie.
The strange play at the end of the first half spilled into the second.
When the Ravens' first drive after halftime stalled, punter Kyle Richardson watched an eye-level snap sail through his hands and chased it down in the end zone where he threw to Anthony Mitchell. But Mitchell was stopped at the Ravens' 8-yard line, giving Tennessee its deepest penetration to that point.
The Ravens' defense clamped down and pushed the Titans back a yard. This time, Tennessee converted its field-goal chance, as kicker Joe Nedney hit a 27-yarder to put the Titans up 3-0. The game's first points came in the 35th minute and on a scoring drive that read: four plays, minus-1 yard.
The Ravens' answer came from Jermaine Lewis, who returned the ensuing kickoff 76 yards to the Titans' 16. Lewis' career-best kickoff return of the regular season was 5 yards more than the Ravens' total offense at that point (71 yards).
A possession that took the Ravens 3:28 to go 4 yards was finished off by Matt Stover's 31-yard field goal. That extended Stover's NFL record to 35 straight games with a field goal and tied the game at 3-3 with 6:45 remaining in the third quarter.
The pace continued to quicken as Tennessee immediately responded to the Ravens with a 71-yard drive. It was capped when Dyson took advantage of soft coverage by McAlister and caught a 22-yard touchdown pass, putting Tennessee ahead 10-3.
Only 2 1/2 minutes later, the Ravens tied the game when a short pass turned into a 57-yard touchdown on a hit by the unlikeliest of blockers. Wrestling away from a hold by cornerback DeRon Jenkins, Ravens receiver Qadry Ismail took off across the field after a 7-yard pass and turned the corner on a block by Shannon Sharpe, a tight end known more for his catches than hits.
On a night when Sharpe tied the NFL record for catches by a tight end, his biggest impact was that crushing block that leveled safety Perry Phenix. It keyed Ismail's fourth touchdown over 20 yards this season and knotted the game at 10 with five seconds left in the third quarter.
"To be perfectly honest, it was really intended for No. 28 [Aric Morris]," Sharpe said. "He had gotten a couple of cheap shots on me earlier and I told him that I'm going to get back at you. I was going to run past somebody to get him, but Phenix was a little faster so I had to take him out."
Two plays later, the Ravens' defense applied its first stamp to the game when linebacker Lewis forced Titans running back Eddie George to fumble. Sharper stopped George on the play and Lewis came across to whack the ball out from his close friend.
"I had almost got it out two or three times," Lewis said. "He cut up inside and I just grabbed it and punched it out."
The Ravens took over at the Tennessee 18 and again turned in another forgettable scoring drive. After gaining 3 yards on three plays, the Ravens took their first lead 1:34 into the fourth quarter on Stover's 33-yard field goal.
That lead grew to 16-10 on a 30-yarder by Stover with 3:06 remaining in the game to set the stage for the dramatic finish.
Working out of the shotgun, McNair directed the Titans 77 yards down the field in three minutes. But the Ravens barricaded him from the end zone at the end, having the final say as AFC Central rivals with realignment around the corner.
"It always seems like that with Tennessee," defensive end Michael McCrary said. "It really shows the character of our defense."