The Tennessee Titans and Baltimore Ravens added another chapter to their rivalry Sunday but, by being the better team on defense, the Ravens wrote a plot twist to beat the AFC South Champions 20-13.
“Wasn’t good enough as a team,” said Titans coach Mike Vrabel. “That’s how it goes sometimes. You know, you’re going to need all three phrases to execute. Give them credit: They won the game. It’s a good football team. We knew they were good.”
When these teams last met in the playoffs a year ago, Derrick Henry had a monster performance, slashing the Ravens defense for 195 yards rushing on 30 carries. When the two teams met again in November, Henry tacked on another 133 yards on 28 carries, including the game-winning overtime run.
But the 2020 Ravens had added some extra muscle to a defensive line that was already scary. They acquired Derek Wolfe from the Denver Broncos and Calais Campbell from Jacksonville Jaguars before the campaign started and traded for the Minnesota Vikings’ Yannick Ngakoue mid-season. This time around, the Baltimore defense was able to hold Henry to one of his worst rushing performances of this season: 40 yards rushing on 18 carries with no touchdowns.
“We had a couple creases, but just not enough,” Vrabel said. “You know, just too many inefficient runs. That just kept us from getting into a flow or feel for anything.”
The Titans did look good very early, starting off the game with a 10-0 run. An A.J. Brown touchdown on a fade route in the red zone was followed by a Stephen Gostkowski field goal on the next drive and it looked like the Titans had all the momentum.
Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson erased that momentum and then some. After Baltimore started the second quarter with a 33-yard Justin Tucker field goal, Jackson — well contained by the Titans defense until them — broke free and zig-zagged for a 48-yard touchdown scramble with 2:32 left in the half.
The Ravens carried the energy from that electrifying into the second half. A short J.K .Dobbins run increased the lead to 17-10 with 9:01 remaining in the third quarter. The Titans’ final points on the day would come from a 25-yard field goal at the beginning of the fourth quarter.
With Henry’s production limited, the Titans passing game wasn’t able to his its stride, either. Ryan Tannehill had just 165 yards passing on the day with a touchdown and an interception. Late in the game, Tannehill was able to move the ball to the Titans’ 37 but Marcus Peters intercepted his pass after Khalif Raymond was bumped and slipped.
“I’m disappointed that we lost against a really good Ravens team that we fought,” said Vrabel after his third season at the helm of the Titans, which included the team’s first division title since 2008 (when they also lost a home playoff game to the Ravens). “We won the division, hosted a playoff game. Wasn’t good enough today. Our guys competed and battled and we came up short.”
The win means the Ravens move on to the divisional round of the playoffs, for which they will travel to Buffalo. Jackson picked up his first playoff win thanks in large part to his 179 yards passing (with an interception) and 136 yards rushing.
“There’s not too many players like Lamar Jackson,” Titans defensive tackle Jeffrey Simmons said. “He’s dynamic. For the most part, we did stop Lamar Jackson. […] Props to him. He used his ability in the game. If you don’t stop it, things like that happen.”