Ravens defensive coordinator Don "Wink" Martindale talks about the challenge of trying to stop Titans running back Derrick Henry in Saturday's playoff game.
Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson let it be known last summer that he was carrying a big chip on his shoulder going into the 2019 season.
It was more like a full-sized rock, actually, or even a boulder.
He has never really gotten over his erratic performance against the Los Angeles Chargers during last year’s wild-card round. He fumbled twice in the first quarter and threw an interception in the second, which took the crowd out of the game and — eventually — the Ravens out of the playoffs.
That’s why it’s so important for Jackson to get off to a fast start in Saturday night’s divisional-round game against the Tennessee Titans and the crowd to be behind him every step of the way.
“Our fans are going to be incredible and amazing and loud when [the Titans] offense is on the field and quiet for our offense,” coach John Harbaugh said Thursday. "We have the best fans. We have the most knowledgeable fans in football, so that’ll be a big part of it. And, everybody has to do their job, including the fans.”
When the fans are rocking “The Bank,” it can be a very tough place for a visiting team, but the expectations for this postseason are so inflated that they have to make sure any early adversity doesn’t knock the wind out of them.
Which is what happened last year, and it was entirely understandable. Jackson, in only his eighth start as a pro, had already generated a ton of excitement. His only regular-season loss had come against a Kansas City Chiefs team that pushed the New England Patriots into overtime in the AFC title game before falling just short of the Super Bowl.
The Ravens already had beaten the Chargers two weeks earlier, so it was quite a shock when they scored only three points in the first three quarters.
This is a very different team, and Jackson has taken his game to an entirely different level, but the Titans have the league’s leading rusher in Derrick Henry and a rejuvenated Ryan Tannehill, both hungry to build on their upset victory over the defending Super Bowl champion Patriots last Saturday.
The crowd could definitely play a role in the outcome. M&T Bank Stadium is considered one of the loudest in the league when the fans are in full throat, and Harbaugh said Thursday that he has no doubt they will do their part to make it as inhospitable as possible for the Titans.
So, he declined the opportunity to use his media session to give them a pep talk.
“Do our fans really need [anyone to get them] charged up for this game?” he said. “I really don’t think they do. Our fans understand what the opportunity is, and I’m pretty sure that our fans are going to be our fans. So, I’d be happy to give them a pep talk at some point in time if they want one, but I don’t really think they need it.”
Everyone knows what a special opportunity the Ravens earned when they closed out the regular season with 12 straight victories to post the best won-loss record in team history, get a first-round bye and secure home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. But there is no pressure like the pressure on the best team in the NFL to live up to all that.
The Titans might be the lowest-seeded team on the AFC side of the draw, but that is a disadvantage that some wild-card teams have found liberating. The Ravens cannot afford to let them hang around and keep hope alive in the fourth quarter, when strange things have a way of happening during the playoffs.
The fans can help with that by keeping the volume pumped up all night long. The impact might not be obvious, but one disrupted snap count at a key moment could help move the Ravens a game closer to their third Super Bowl.