NASHVILLE, Tenn. - It's not who makes the most plays, and it's not necessarily who makes the best plays. But it's the timely plays that separate a team preparing for the AFC championship game and another packing its bags for the offseason.
The Ravens posted their second-lowest offensive output of the season, gaining only 211 yards. Of those, 108 came on three plays: Derrick Mason's 48-yard touchdown reception, Mark Clayton's 37-yard catch that set up the team's first field goal, and Joe Flacco's 23-yard third-down strike to Todd Heap that kept the Ravens' game-winning drive alive.
In describing the difference between victor and loser, Ravens coach John Harbaugh was succinct.
"They made their share of plays, too," he said. "We just made the ones that made the difference."
Mason's touchdown was the Ravens' first sign of life offensively. They didn't manage a first down until their third possession of the first quarter. Facing third-and-13 from the Titans' 48-yard line, Flacco had lots of time and heaved the ball toward the goal line.
"They were in a two-high coverage, and I kind of locked them in on Todd on the seam," Flacco said. "I held the safety in there long enough to hit Derrick in the hole."
The touchdown tied the score at 7. It was Mason's longest touchdown of the season and his second-longest reception.
"I may be 34, but I still can get behind you," Mason said. "I got behind the defensive back, and Joe put it right on the money."
The Ravens managed just three first downs between that first-quarter touchdown and the waning moments of the third, when Flacco found Clayton streaking down the sideline. Tennessee had two defenders outrun the ball, but Clayton turned around and caught the 37-yarder, tumbling to Tennessee's 4. The Ravens couldn't punch it in, though, and settled for Matt Stover's 21-yard field goal in the opening minute of the fourth quarter, which gave them a 10-7 lead.
There were certainly similarities to the Ravens' playoff win here in 2001. In that victory, the Ravens also broke open a tie at 10 tie in the fourth quarter, needing little offense to carry the 24-10 win. That Ravens team totaled just 134 yards of offense and only six first downs.
By comparison, yesterday's Ravens team was an offensive juggernaut, with nine first downs and barely half the Titans' yardage total of 391. The Ravens' running game managed just 50 yards on 30 carries, and Flacco completed only half his passes, finishing the day 11-for-22 for 161 yards.
When it mattered most, though, the offense came up big, putting together a 51-yard drive - the team's second-longest of the day - in the final minutes of the game, setting up Stover's game-winner.
"We struggled a bit," Mason said, "but then we make plays when we had to make them."