At the 1:38 mark of the first quarter and the Ravens trailing 10-0, the vibe of the game was hauntingly familiar. Just a year ago the Titans took a two-score lead and it derailed the Ravens plans – plans that never got back on track.
But yesterday in Nashville, the Ravens didn’t blink. They got back on schedule and thanks to a terrific defensive attack, Wink Martindale’s troops threw the Titans’ offensive plans for a loop, including bottling up 2K rusher Derrick Henry who was held to just 40 yards on 18 carries.
The Ravens plan took away the Titans offensive personality. The Titans were rattled and never got back on track. It was written all over Henry’s face on the sideline. Seemingly the Ravens extracted his will to compete. After spotting the Titans a 10-0 lead, the Ravens outscored the AFC South Champs 20-3 and advanced to the Divisional Round where they’ll take on the Buffalo Bills as 2 ½ point road underdogs.
Heading into the game the narrative was all about Lamar Jackson’s inability to win a playoff game – to come from behind from two scores, as if that is all on him. In Music City, Lamar dashed that narrative, got the proverbial monkey off his back and now, he no longer has to listen to all of the dramatic media noise.
Lamar always gives a refreshingly honest take on things and yesterday was no different.
Gotta love LJ! pic.twitter.com/E2qWoFRYrK
— Tony Lombardi (@RSRLombardi) January 10, 2021
The two central figures in the contest were Lamar and Henry. One showed up and the other had his soul torn out. Let’s get to it…
* Whenever he takes the field you can rest assured that Lamar is going to provide a few splash plays and against the Titans he didn’t disappoint. He finished with 136 yards on 16 carries including an electrifying 48-yard TD run to tie the game at 10. The big blemish on the day was the horrific first quarter interception. Other than that, Lamar played well although he did miss on a couple of opportunities in the red zone by failing to throw on time, including a potential touchdown to Mark Andrews.
* Late in the first quarter Lamar made a clutch throw, down 10-0. Facing a 3rd-and-7 from his own 28 with 14 seconds left in the quarter, Jackson was flushed out of the pocket to his right and hit Andrews with a 17-yard completion. Failure to convert that third down may have opened the flood gates. The play would help set up a FGA and get the Ravens on the board.
* The Ravens once again eclipsed the 200-yard mark rushing. They had 236 yards on the ground despite a defense that schemed to push everything, particularly the passing game, outside the numbers. Baltimore averaged 6.7 yards on 35 carries. JK Dobbins and Gus Edwards contributed determined efforts with some tough sledding.
* Marquise Brown had 109 receiving yards and added another 19 on the ground. He worked the shallow boundaries well, spinning Titans CB Adoree Jackson around a few times. Brown and Lamar connected on a key 28 yard throw in the second quarter to help set up the Ravens first points. It was a perfectly placed ball and Brown adjusted well despite tight coverage from Adoree Jackson.
* Patrick Ricard played well, shifting between roles as a fullback and tight end. On the Ravens opening drive of the second half, Ricard had 3 catches for 26 yards, one of which was a nice feathery-fingered reception on 3rd-and-2 from the Titans 13, taking the ball down to the four. One play later Dobbins hit pay dirt.
* Patrick Queen was extremely quiet most of the game but showed up spectacularly in a clutch situation during the third quarter with the Titans trying to tie the game at 17. Facing a 2nd-and-goal from the Ravens 8, Ryan Tannehill hit AJ Brown with a little curl at the 5-yard line near the right hash. Queen dropped the beastly receiver immediately. On the very next play, Queen forced Tannehill to unload sooner than desired and hit Henry on a little dump off pass. The monster tailback was dropped by LJ Fort for a 2 yard loss. It forced the Titans to settle for a field goal.
— The Checkdown (@thecheckdown) January 10, 2021
* Jihad Ward made a terrific play sniffing out a screen. He backed off his pursuit of Tannehill to deflect a pass intended for TE Jonnu Smith, a deflection that Tannehill made the mistake of catching. Ward then dropped the QB for a 10-yard loss.
* DeShon Elliott can bring the wood and did so on a crucial play at the 10:10 mark of the fourth quarter. The Titans faced a 3rd-and-2 from the Ravens 40 and Tannehill opted for Jonnu Smith. Elliott raced to greet Smith, dislodging the ball and forcing a fourth down decision from the Titans. Mike Vrabel, with Derrick Henry at his disposal, opted to punt. It would prove to be a major mistake by the Titans head coach and was clear evidence that the Titans lacked confidence on offense.
This is the first time in our database (complete back to 1994) that a team in the playoffs punted on 4th and 2 from this field position, down by one score in the 4th Quarter https://t.co/DNdUZL4fzw https://t.co/LLUp1yMUgt
— ProFootballReference (@pfref) January 10, 2021
* Marcus Peters was effective in coverage when challenged, containing the damage whenever targeted by Tannehill. Corey Davis was largely Peters’ responsibility and the big receiver who entered the game with 65 catches for 984 yards on the season, was shut out and eventually taken out of the game. Peters also had the game-clinching INT.
* Wink Martindale disguised coverages to create confusion and/or hesitancy on Tannehill’s part. The Ravens would show blitz and drop back into short zones. Tyus Bowser did a nice job handling such assignments.
* The Ravens tackled extremely well as a unit. They played inspired football.
* Props to Sam Koch and the punt coverage team. Sam had a net average of 46.5 yards on two punts. Added props to Justin Tucker, crushing a 51-yard field goal after missing a 52-yarder on the previous possession. Tucker’s footing gave way on the miss and then failed to strike the ball flush. The 51-yarder would have been good from 60.
* Congrats to John Harbaugh for becoming the winningest coach on the road during the playoffs in NFL history.
* Mark Andrews drop on the Ravens first possession had me a bit concerned that it might be another one of those days for the talented TE. He eventually recovered while attracting plenty of attention from Titans’ defenders.
* The Ravens once again struggled in the red zone against Tennessee. This time around they were just 1 of 3. They’ll need to clean that up as they go deeper into the playoffs.
* Marlon Humphrey struggled in coverage on AJ Brown during the Titans only TD drive. Brown had 3 catches for 52 yards including the controversial score.
* The no-call on AJ Brown in the end zone was egregious. Clearly he pushed off Humphrey to gain separation to make the catch. Making the call even worse was the lack of consistency which was on display later in the game when Willie Snead was flagged for an OPI when the Ravens converted a 4th-and-2 at the Titans 23. The ticky-tacky call cost the Ravens a first down and forced a 51-yard FGA.
* Lamar Jackson’s first quarter INT may have been the worst pass of his career.
* The Ravens pass protection was extremely shoddy. In 17 games this season the Titans have 24 sacks. Seven of those sacks were produced in two games against the Ravens – five in this wild card game. Tyre Phillips was the biggest culprit and was knocked around regularly by Brooks Reed. Harold Landry had his way with Orlando Brown, Jr, contributing 2 sacks.
* Greg Roman needs to ditch that backwards pass when deep in the Ravens own territory. If not for a nice catch off his shoulder pad while on the run by Marquise, we might be talking about a different outcome to this game.
* The Ravens payback on the Titans logo following the Peters interception was unnecessary and classless. There’s an old saying about wrestling with pigs. You both get muddy and the pig likes it. The Ravens should have let their play do the talking and not stoop to the level of Vrabel’s insufferable collection of swine. But make no mistake about it – this rivalry is on. Unfortunately, the only way the teams will meet again next season would be as post season combatants.
THE MO GABA
During the two previous meetings between the Ravens and Titans, the bullies, uncharacteristically, were the Titans. They were the more physical team at the line of scrimmage. And they were the team that while controlling Lamar Jackson, hit the Ravens in the mouth with a sledgehammer-like running back in the form of Derrick Henry.
The Titans marched into The Bank, stole the Ravens pride, mocked them on the field and in the press and then came into Baltimore earlier this season to symbolically desecrate their shield. This game was personal. This game was about putting the bully in his place and the best way to do that was to put a choke-hold on Derrick Henry.
Entering the game Henry had rushed for 98 first downs and he had 12 in his most recent game v. the Texans. Against the Ravens he had NONE. At halftime Henry had 18 yards on 10 carries. The MNF crew repeated often how effective Henry is in the fourth quarter, averaging nearly 7 yards per carry. Well the second half wasn’t much better for the most recent member of the 2k club. He was held to 40 yards on 18 carries for the game, the longest of which was 8 yards. The Titans have averaged 168 yards rushing per game. The Ravens held them to 51 yards, 209 overall. And the impetus behind the success was the defensive line.
Pernell McPhee was outstanding getting off blocks while contributing 6 tackles, at or near the LOS. His athletic spin move into the teeth of the Titans O-line, paved the way to Derek Wolfe’s sack. P-Mac managed to do all that on just 20 snaps. Wolfe had a great day overall with 6 tackles including this potential TD-saving takedown of Henry.
17-13 game at this point. Huge tackle by Wolfe. Gets one arm on Henry AND HANGS ON for the ride. Spins around, but brings down the big man. That’s a lot of green space in front of 22…#Ravens #RavensFlock pic.twitter.com/fB9Pu1cegn
— KingMoose (@Yoshi2052) January 11, 2021
Wolfe was supported capably by sidekicks Brandon Williams, Calais Campbell and Justin Madubuike. Matt Judon did a great job supporting the run, dropping Henry for a loss. It was an absolute man-up effort from this unit and it really was the difference in the game.
Somewhere Mo Gaba and Marcus Wyche are smiling ear-to-ear.