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‘Did that really happen?’ Ravens fans come to grips with upset loss to Titans, end of historic season

Bob Waldo of Overlea, left, and friend Alex Corona of Dundalk react at Jimmy's Famous Seafood in Dundalk to the Ravens' 28-12 playoff loss Saturday night against the Tennessee Titans. Jan. 12, 2020
Bob Waldo of Overlea, left, and friend Alex Corona of Dundalk react at Jimmy's Famous Seafood in Dundalk to the Ravens' 28-12 playoff loss Saturday night against the Tennessee Titans. Jan. 12, 2020 (Amy Davis/Baltimore Sun)

What?

Ravens nation woke Sunday to a reality fans hoped was a nightmare: Their Super Bowl-favorite team had been knocked out of the NFL playoffs at home, trounced 28-12 by the Tennessee Titans in a game in which everything seemed to go wrong.

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Dreams of a Super Bowl in Miami erased, Baltimore football fans canceled any February travel plans to Florida and began the armchair analysis of why the team, which ran away with the final 12 games of their franchise-best 14-win regular season, a No. 1 seed in the AFC and a first-round bye, had no answer for the Titans in Saturday night’s divisional round in Baltimore.

John Minadakis, owner of Jimmy’s Famous Seafood, could hardly sleep Saturday night after watching the stunning loss in person at M&T Bank Stadium.

“I woke up like every hour,” Minadakis said. “Did that really happen?"

Though the Ravens have known losses before in the playoffs, this team – after winning nonstop for the final three months of the regular season – carried the hopes of a city struggling with problems. Many yearned to see the Ravens win it all, to help bolster their belief in Baltimore.

R.J. Prince, a guard who signed with the Ravens last May and was on the practice squad this season, visited Jimmy's Famous Seafood in Dundalk with Ethan Morris, right, and other friends from his hometown of Albemarle, North Carolina, to commiserate and cheer up after the Ravens' loss Saturday night to the Tennessee Titans Jan. 12, 2020
R.J. Prince, a guard who signed with the Ravens last May and was on the practice squad this season, visited Jimmy's Famous Seafood in Dundalk with Ethan Morris, right, and other friends from his hometown of Albemarle, North Carolina, to commiserate and cheer up after the Ravens' loss Saturday night to the Tennessee Titans Jan. 12, 2020 (Amy Davis/Baltimore Sun)

“It’s interesting how sports can boost the morale of a city,” said Eamari Bell, a dental student in Baltimore.

“I really wanted it for Baltimore," said her friend Subira Brown, 27, who works for Urban Strategies, a nonprofit that works with residents in distressed city neighborhoods.

The energy at M&T Bank Stadium was palpable before the divisional game, and the crowd held out hope well after halftime, said Bell, 27, who attended her first Ravens game Saturday night, working in a concessions stand.

She didn’t get to see the game, but Bell watched fans’ expressions grow more and more glum as the second half wore on.

“They weren’t really expecting what happened,” she said. “Nobody cried. It was just kinda somber.”

Plenty of Ravens fans were still out when Bell went to Sangria Patio Bar in Mount Vernon after the game, but nobody in purple was making much noise.

“It was very quiet in the streets,” she said. “People were wearing their Ravens gear, but they weren’t saying anything.”

The running game was a problem for the Ravens on both sides of the ball, said Bryan Bierly, 36, of Parkville, who cheered from the front row of Section 146.

The Titans’ bowling ball of a running back, Derrick Henry, rolled right through the Ravens’ vaunted defense, rushing for 195 yards on 30 carries and even throwing a 3-yard jump pass for a touchdown.

Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson, still considered the favorite to win the league’s Most Valuable Player award, which is based on regular-season performance, showed flashes of brilliance — including a 38-yard deep ball to wideout Marquis “Hollywood” Brown in the final possession of the first half and a 30-yard scramble in the third quarter.

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But the Titans stuffed the Ravens offense at the line of scrimmage in a pair of big-time fourth-down situations. The team felt forced to abandon its previously unstoppable running game and passed a total of 59 times after falling behind by two touchdowns in the first half. Missed throws, dropped balls and turnovers sucked the wind out from under the Ravens’ wings.

“We got away from the run game,” Bierly said. “Going for it on fourth down didn’t help us this time. ... We couldn’t stop the run.”

After the loss, Bierly canceled his flight to Miami and hotel reservation for Super Bowl weekend. But he maintained a positive outlook on the team’s prospects.

“We’ve got a bright future,” he said. “We’re young, and we’ve got a lot of money to spend.”

Bob Waldo, 77, of Overlea couldn’t understand why, when the Titans had Ravens’ receivers covered, Jackson didn’t tuck the ball and run more. He carried 20 times for 143 yards and lost a fumble.

“Let Jackson run it,” he said. “He was the guy all season. It was not the normal game plan. ... If they can contain Henry and let Jackson do his thing, we’re going to win that game.”

After Jackson hadn’t played for three straight weeks, the star quarterback and the Ravens struggled to find their groove on what was Parker Pennington’s 58th birthday Saturday.

“The rust thing is a factor,” Pennington said. “You have to give the Titans some credit for coming in with a good game plan.”

He and his roommate Ray Cotta watched the Ravens game at their house in Hampden while “getting surly and pissed off,” Cotta said.

“The chicken wings were good, though," Cotta said. ”I made some bangin’ chicken wings — about the only thing that was bangin'."

After the loss, Baltimore Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young, will send two dozen Jimmy’s crab cakes, a bushel of Maryland crabs from Faidley’s Seafood, and a case of Union Craft Brewing Duckpin Pale Ale to Nashville Mayor John Cooper, part of a friendly wager on the game.

Young had been hoping to see the Ravens “ride their storybook season deep into the playoffs,” said his spokesman, Lester Davis.

“That wasn’t meant to be,” Davis said. “You lick your wounds, pick yourself up and start preparing for the next season. Like the city and some of the challenges we face, we draw our strength from each other. It shouldn’t take anything away from this season. It brought a lot of joy to a lot of people in the region. That’s a win in the mayor’s book.”

Nikki Griffith drove to Baltimore from Virginia Beach, Virginia, to watch the playoff game from seats in the fourth row on the Ravens’ sideline.

While “a combination of things” — no one play or player — was responsible for the upset, said Griffith, 37, she credited Henry with taking over the game.

“We weren’t prepared for him,” she said.

Jackson, who threw for 365 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions, “made some bad passes,” Griffith said, "but the receivers weren’t catching the ball.”

“We have to come back next year and work harder," she said.

That was the consensus at the team’s somber Sunday morning meeting, said R.J. Prince, a first-year guard on the Ravens practice squad.

“We’ll focus on getting better in the offseason,” he said. “Learn from it, and move forward.”

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