New chapter, familiar foe

The Baltimore Sun

MIAMI - If familiarity breeds contempt, as the adage goes, it was on display the last time the Ravens tussled with the Tennessee Titans.

In a 13-10 loss at M&T; Bank Stadium on Oct. 5, the teams combined for 21 penalties and 169 yards of infractions.

Push came to shove more than once in a renewal of old hostilities, dating to when the Ravens and Titans played twice a year in the AFC Central.

In an odd twist, the biggest penalty of the game - a roughing-the-passer call against the Ravens' Terrell Suggs - was one of the most questionable of the day. Suggs appeared to barely touch quarterback Kerry Collins on a play that should have been blown dead for a Tennessee false start.

The 15-yard penalty on a third-down incompletion allowed the Titans to launch a game-winning 80-yard touchdown drive in the final six minutes.

If nothing else, the Ravens will be on familiar territory in Nashville, where they upset the then-top-seeded Titans as a wild-card team in the 2000 playoffs en route to their Super Bowl victory in Tampa.

"We know where we're at; we expect to go win it all," Ravens defensive coordinator Rex Ryan said after yesterday's 27-9 win over the Miami Dolphins. "We got a tough one [Saturday] against Tennessee ... but we ain't afraid of anybody."

The Ravens' strengths seemingly match the Titans' strengths. Both teams play fierce defense, both rely on the running game to set up the pass, and both are well coached.

Tennessee coach Jeff Fisher was mindful of the teams' playoff history when the Titans issued a statement from him yesterday:

"Now that we know our opponent, we have a tremendous challenge ahead of us. Baltimore has improved in all areas since we saw them earlier this season. They are built around a strong run game and a great defense, which reminds us of the classic matchups against them in the past."

Tennessee won the most recent postseason game with the Ravens, a 20-17 decision in Baltimore in the 2003 season.

Ravens coach John Harbaugh remembers facing Collins while Harbaugh was with the Philadelphia Eagles.

"We played him way back when, when he was with the Giants," Harbaugh said. "He's better than he's ever been in his career, not because of the fact that he doesn't turn the ball over, but he makes throws. He stands in the pocket, he's very courageous, and obviously they're a great football team."

Collins became the Titans' starter after Vince Young suffered a knee injury in Week 1. In 15 starts, he threw 12 touchdown passes and seven interceptions. He had just one touchdown pass in a five-game stretch, from Week 4 to Week 9 - but the Titans won them all en route to a 10-0 start.

That's because the Titans dominate with defense and count on rookie running back Chris Johnson (1,228 yards, nine touchdowns) to move the offense.

The Ravens led the NFL with 26 interceptions this season. The Titans, with 20, weren't far behind.

"They're a great team; it'll be a great battle," Ravens running back Le'Ron McClain said. "With the defense and special teams we have, we know if we come in and execute the offense and don't turn over the ball, we're hard to beat.

"Cam tells us that every day," he added, referring to offensive coordinator Cam Cameron. "We have to have that mentality going into the game."

As the conference's top seed, the Titans (13-3) have home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs and were able to sit out wild-card weekend. The Ravens (12-5) have played for 16 consecutive weeks after losing a Week 10 bye; they were forced to take their bye in Week 2 when Hurricane Ike forced the postponement of their game against the Houston Texans.

But the Ravens have persevered through myriad obstacles this season, not the least of which was the heat of South Florida.

Asked about their resilience, Harbaugh said: "I don't know if it's any one thing. It's just a bunch of tough guys, a bunch of guys who don't care what the environment is, what time they play, where they play.

"That's what we do."

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