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At least for one week, disaster averted by the Ravens

After a lackluster first quarter, the Ravens did what they had to by avoiding a devastating loss heading into the bye week.

The only accomplishment for the Ravens on Sunday was that they avoided disaster.

That in itself is an achievement because it's no fun having the season end in Week 10, and that virtually would have happened if the Ravens had lost to the Tennessee Titans.

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But the Ravens don't get any style points. In fact, it isn't very often that you wonder if a team got any better after winning by 14 points, but few know for sure, even coach John Harbaugh.

"It's hard not to look back at the ones that got away and feel like, 'Man, what if we had won this one or that one.' But you can't," Harbaugh said. "You have to move forward and you have to move on and you have to win a game like this. It's a long season.

"A lot of things are going to happen between now and the end of the season, and we just have to be our best. There are things we have to get better at. Plenty of things showed up in this game that we didn't do as well as we need to do going forward."

The best result for the Ravens was that the win kept them in contention for the AFC North title. Combined with Pittsburgh's 20-13 loss to the New York Jets Sunday and the Cleveland Browns' 24-3 upset of the Cincinnati Bengals Thursday night, the Browns are in first followed by the Bengals with Pittsburgh and the Ravens tied for third.

Go figure. In Week 10, the Browns are looking down on the rest of the AFC North.

What that shows is that the Ravens are an average team playing in an average division. There is not a team good enough to take control and run away with the title.

The Ravens had that chance, but lost two in a row before Sunday. Pittsburgh had won two in a row behind hot quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, but then had four turnovers against the Jets.

The Bengals have the best overall team roster, but they also have "The Great Equalizer" in quarterback Andy Dalton, who plays poorly against a lot of teams except the Ravens.

Of course there are the Browns, who are much improved from a year ago, but like all the other teams in the division, they have their own problems.

That's why the Ravens' matchup was so intriquing Sunday against the Titans. After back-to-back losses to Cincinnati and Pittsburgh, there was hope that the Ravens would come out crisp and dominate the Titans.

It never happened.

Oh, they won, but they struggled — having to score 14 points in the second half after a 7-7 tie at halftime. If the Ravens were playing maybe a Miami or a Philadelphia there would be more satisfaction about the victory, but this was Tennessee, which had the No. 27-ranked offense and No. 23 defense in the NFL. The Titans were No. 28 in rushing defense, allowing 134.8 yards per game.

So, even when the Ravens did some things well, it has to be followed by, "Well, they were only playing the Titans."

Regardless of Harbaugh's weekly rhetoric about every opponent being a good team including Tampa Bay and Atlanta, the Titans aren't. They started three rookies on offense including left tackle Taylor Lewan, running back Bishop Sankey and quarterback Zach Mettenberger.

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The Ravens had five sacks, but Mettenberger was as mobile as a cement truck. Tennessee had 45 yards of offense in the second half compared to 165 in the first, and maybe that's because the Titans started second-half drives on their own 15-, 7-, 9- and 1-yard lines.

What was encouraging was that the Ravens got back to their strong running game as halfback Justin Forsett had 112 yards on 20 carries and backup Bernard Pierce had 31 yards on eight rushing attempts.

The Ravens finally got a strong game out of receiver Torrey Smith, who had five catches for 75 yards, including one for a 32-yard touchdown. The front seven on defense turned in another strong effort and started collapsing the pocket on Mettenberger in the second half.

But the Ravens got off to a slow start again, and they were only four of 13 on third down conversions. For those who think receiver Steve Smith is struggling because of age, maybe they should question the decision-making of quarterback Joe Flacco.

Against Tennessee, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh, he has struggled to get the Ravens into more suitable plays because his reads are poor at the line of scrimmage. Also, there have been times when Steve Smith has been open, but Flacco has gone elsewhere, especially with the long ball against the Bengals.

The Ravens secondary was solid against the Titans, but it's not going to hold up against Roethlisberger, Peyton Manning or Tom Brady.

"Going from 6-4 to 5-5, that would have been devastating for us," Ravens outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil said. "Obviously, it was a tough loss [last week] which shows the resiliency of this team, and we obviously wanted to get that going, enjoy the win before the bye week, and this is perfect timing to get our bodies really to roll before the stretch."

And that's what Sunday's win was all about. Anything else, especially a loss, would have been catastrophic.

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