A rivalry nearly a quarter-century old will get another entry Sunday when the Ravens face the Tennessee Titans in the first round of the NFL playoffs.
The matchup will be the fifth in the postseason between the former AFC Central foes, with the road team winning each of the previous four. The Ravens will try to keep that streak going this week, while also potentially adding to this list of top moments of their rivalry with the Titans.
Ravens hand Titans first home defeat at new stadium
As division rivals, the teams initially faced off twice a year after the Ravens debuted in 1996, when the Titans were still the Houston Oilers. But after moving to their own stadium in Nashville in 1999, they were 12-0 at what was then Adelphia Coliseum when the Ravens visited on Nov. 12, 2000.
Trent Dilfer’s touchdown pass to Patrick Johnson with 19 seconds left gave Baltimore a 24-23 victory, its first over the Titans and ending Tennessee’s home winning streak. After the game, Ravens coach Brian Billick showed the locker room a Sports Illustrated cover that declared the Titans as the NFL’s best team.
“Maybe they are,” Billick said, “but not today.”
The recorded moment proved significant when the Ravens returned to Nashville months later for a playoff game and it was played on the video screen during the game, much to Billick’s discontent.
Lewis seals first playoff matchup
Titans running back Eddie George and Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis went head-to-head often when their teams met, but Lewis came out on top in what was perhaps the most significant of those meetings.
On Jan. 7, 2001, with the Ravens leading 17-10 in the fourth quarter of an AFC divisional playoff game, Titans quarterback Steve McNair tried to connect with George, but the pass deflected off him and into Lewis’ arms. The 50-yard pick-six sealed a Ravens victory, and three weeks later, they won their first Super Bowl, with Lewis named Most Valuable Player.
George gets his revenge
After the 2001 season, the NFL realigned its divisions, sending Baltimore into the AFC North while Tennessee became a member of the NFC South. They played only once over the next two seasons, but they matched up again in the playoffs for the 2003 season.
On a fourth-quarter run, George stiff-armed Lewis to the ground for what was a short gain, but immediately began jawing with the linebacker. The drive ended in a Gary Anderson field goal that put Tennessee up 17-10, but the Ravens evened the score on Todd Heap’s 35-yard touchdown reception.
Another Anderson field goal in the final minute, one that hit the crossbar but bounced in, gave the Titans a 20-17 victory in the wild-card round, handing the Ravens their second straight postseason loss after the franchise won its first five playoff games.
Flacco and Harbaugh reach conference championship game in first season
Between playoff matchups, the rivalry had some off-the-field heat, with a handful of notable Titans, including McNair, joining the Ravens through trades and free agency. A season after McNair retired, a rookie quarterback and head coach guided Baltimore past Tennessee for its first conference title game appearance since 2000.
John Harbaugh replaced Billick as coach in January 2008. Three months later, the Ravens used their first-round pick on Delaware quarterback Joe Flacco. The pair of rookies led Baltimore to an 11-5 regular season and a wild-card round victory to earn a matchup with the Titans, the AFC’s No. 1 seed.
Flacco threw a touchdown pass to former Titan Derrick Mason in the first quarter, and the teams entered the final frame even at 7. An exchange of field goals ended in Matt Stover’s 43-yarder with 53 seconds left as Baltimore upset Tennessee and advanced to the AFC championship game while Flacco became the first rookie quarterback to win two playoff games.
Titans flip the script
After twice losing to Baltimore as the AFC’s top seed, the Titans got their revenge last season.
Led by MVP quarterback Lamar Jackson, the Ravens won their final 12 regular-season games and were the No. 1 postseason seed for the first time in franchise history, but the celebration ended there.
Despite Jackson passing for 365 yards and rushing for 143 more, Tennessee’s defense kept the Ravens out of the end zone until the fourth quarter in a 28-12 victory. Titans running back Derrick Henry ran for nearly 200 yards and threw a touchdown pass near the goal line.
Henry remains a formidable force in this year’s matchup, having become the eighth player to rush for 2,000 yards in a single season. His 29-yard touchdown run in overtime sealed a 30-24 victory in Week 11 after some Titans players had a confrontation with Harbaugh at midfield before the game.
The entire Titans team huddled on the Ravens’ logo at midfield as they were introduced and Harbaugh appeared to take exception. The Ravens had not yet been introduced and were inside the tunnel, so only the Ravens coaches were on the field.
Harbaugh walked out to midfield and exchanged words with cornerback Malcolm Butler before Titans coach Mike Vrabel and others intervened, including the officials. After Vrabel directed his players to the sideline, Harbaugh and Vrabel continued to talk between officials.
After the game, the coaches met for a brief handshake.
“I went to celebrate with Derrick [Henry] and congratulate him, and then I ran back and shook [Harbaugh’s] hand,” Vrabel said. “I asked what the issue was before the game and he said there wasn’t an issue. So, I wanted to celebrate with my football team.”
Said Harbaugh: “After the game, there wasn’t an issue. Coach Vrabel, I think, was down there celebrating in the end zone, and then he came back around and shook hands. [What happened] before the game is irrelevant.”