It didn’t look like anyone expected it to, but the Ravens got a playoff win.
With the NFL’s two best rushing offenses kept under wraps in Nashville, the fifth-seeded Ravens relied on their defense and Lamar Jackson’s playmaking to hold off the fourth-seeded Tennessee Titans, 20-13, in the wild-card round and earn their first playoff victory since 2014.
Cornerback Marcus Peters’ interception with under two minutes remaining ended the AFC South champions’ hopes of a game-tying drive and capped a dominant day for the Ravens defense.
Titans running back Derrick Henry, the NFL’s leading rusher, was held to 40 yards on 18 carries (2.2 per carry). After a strong start, quarterback Ryan Tannehill finished 18-for-26 for 165 yards, a touchdown and the crucial interception.
Quarterback Lamar Jackson overcame a slow start and a surprisingly stingy Titans defense to finish 17-for-24 for 179 yards. He added 16 carries for 136 yards, including a game-changing 48-yard score in the first half. Overall, the Ravens finished with 35 carries for 236 yards (6.7 per carry), though their running back room combined for just 81 yards.
The win silenced Jackson’s most vocal critics, who’d pointed to his 0-2 record as a starter in the postseason, both times as a favorite. The Ravens also got a small measure of revenge against Tennessee, which ended their Super Bowl dreams last season before adding to their misery with a Week 11 overtime win in Baltimore.
“We finished,” Jackson said in a postgame interview. “We finally finished.”
The Ravens didn’t lead until the third quarter, after their easiest drive all game. A 10-play, 77-yard march to open the second half ended with running back J.K. Dobbins (nine carries for 43 yards) barreling in from 4 yards out and a 17-10 lead.
The Ravens — and the Titans — kept the scoring to a minimum after that. After Tennessee was stymied in the red zone to end the third quarter, a rarity for any opposing defense, Titans kicker Stephen Gostkowski hit a 25-yarder.
The Ravens didn’t get close to the goal line again, but it didn’t matter. They got the help they needed. After kicker Justin Tucker missed from 52 yards, their defense held, forcing Tennessee to punt at the Ravens’ 40. It was a curious decision: According to Pro-Football-Reference, it was the first time in the website’s database (dating to 1994) that a team punted on fourth-and-2 from that field position, down by one score, in the fourth quarter of a playoff game.
On the Ravens’ next drive, they seemed to have a fourth-down conversion in Titans territory, but wide receiver Willie Snead IV (two catches for 9 yards) was flagged for offensive pass interference on a completion to running back Dobbins. Tucker got redemption, and made it look easy, nailing a 51-yard attempt for a 20-13 lead with just over four minutes remaining.
The Ravens had opened the game with their best imitation of last season’s playoff loss. On their first drive, they gained 5 yards and punted. On their second drive, Jackson missed wide receiver Miles Boykin badly on a deep shot, and cornerback Malcolm Butler came up with the Titans’ fourth interception in their past nine quarters against the Ravens.
By that point, the defense looked out of it, too. Even with Henry bottled up, the Ravens’ back end was struggling. Tannehill found Pro Bowl wide receiver A.J. Brown (six catches for 83 yards) for 28 yards, then 14 yards, then a 10-yard score, all in one drive, all against Pro Bowl cornerback Marlon Humphrey.
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On their next possession, tight end Anthony Firkser had a 35-yard catch-and-run as he buzzed past inside linebacker Patrick Queen on a crossing pattern. Gostkowski’s 45-yard field goal gave the Titans a 10-0 lead, and the Ravens hadn’t even gotten past midfield.
[ Ravens celebrate on Titans logo, get flagged for taunting after Marcus Peters’ late interception ]
The Ravens’ first-half spark was not a surprise. On third-and-9, Jackson scrambled 48 yards for a game-tying touchdown, flying up the middle to escape pressure before toasting the Titans’ secondary as he raced to the goal line. It was the second-longest playoff touchdown by a quarterback in NFL history, behind only a 56-yard run by the San Francisco 49ers’ Colin Kaepernick in 2012.
Wide receiver Marquise “Hollywood” Brown finished with seven catches on nine targets for 109 yards, both game highs, while tight end Mark Andrews added four catches for 41 yards.
The Ravens won’t know their next opponent until after Sunday night’s AFC North clash. With a win by the third-seeded Pittsburgh Steelers, the Ravens would face the top-seeded Chiefs in Kansas City. With a win by the sixth-seeded Cleveland Browns, the Ravens would face the second-seeded Bills in Buffalo.
Daniel Oyefusi, reporter: When Lamar Jackson took one last knee to end Sunday’s game and led his team off the field, it was a fitting image given the way Jackson took charge in the victory. Talk about storylines: The Ravens erased a 10-0 deficit, Jackson erased the postseason narrative that has dogged his stellar career, and the entire team got a momentous victory. The Ravens took all the discourse about their quarterback and their team, internalized it and responded with one of the most memorable playoffs wins in franchise history. They got over one hump, but their job isn’t finished.
Jonas Shaffer, reporter: The Ravens were staring down deja vu. They weren’t running the ball well. Their offensive line was getting beat up in pass protection. They hadn’t overcome a 10-point deficit in Lamar Jackson’s career. But they kept their head down, did their job and slowly worked their way back. The Ravens’ mantra over the past few weeks has been simple: “Finish.” They got to the finish line in a way that was hard to predict, but they got there.
Childs Walker, reporter: The Ravens stared their worst fears in the eye and survived. Down 10-0, with Lamar Jackson looking shaky after an early interception, they could have easily fallen down the same hole that consumed them 12 months earlier. Instead, Jackson reminded us he’s the one element on the Ravens offense that cannot be checked. His touchdown run in the first half was a huge turning point in the game and another one for his remarkable career highlight reel. But Don “Wink” Martindale’s defense deserves at least as much credit for this victory. With Calais Campbell and Brandon Williams healthy, they played a disciplined, forceful game up front. Pernell McPhee and Matthew Judon did masterful work setting the edges against Derrick Henry (18 carries for 40 yards), and the secondary did its job after Marlon Humphrey’s early struggles against Pro Bowl wide receiver A.J. Brown. It was fitting that the Ravens put the game away with an interception by Marcus Peters and one more dash by Jackson for a first down. The Ravens will face another hellacious offense next week no matter where they go, but their style will be a bear for either the Chiefs or the Bills.