When the Ravens and Titans face off in the AFC divisional round Jan. 11, it will be the fourth time the two teams have met in the playoffs. Baltimore holds a 2-1 edge to this point, with the Ravens winning in the 2000 and 2008 playoffs and the Titans winning in the 2003 playoffs.
Here’s a trip down memory lane:
Before the NFL realigned its divisions ahead of the 2002 season, the Ravens resided in the AFC Central with the Titans, Steelers, Jaguars, Bengals and Browns, and in 2000, there was no rivalry in the NFL better than Ravens-Titans. The two teams played three times during the 2000 season, with the Ravens winning twice — including the most important one.
The Ravens lost to the Titans in Baltimore in October 2000, part of a five-game stretch during which the Ravens did not score a touchdown. Quarterback Tony Banks, who began the season as the Ravens’ starter, was benched the third quarter after throwing three interceptions, including a pick-six that iced the win for the Titans. Trent Dilfer finished the game and took the reins thereafter.
Baltimore then beat the Titans, 24-23, three weeks later in Tennessee, becoming the first team to beat the Titans in their new stadium, which opened in 1999 as Adelphia Coliseum. Dilfer threw a pick-six with 2:30 remaining, which gave Tennessee a 23-17 lead. But Dilfer then marched the Ravens down the field, throwing the winning touchdown to receiver Patrick Johnson with 25 seconds left.
During his postgame locker room speech, Ravens head coach Brian Billick got a little creative.
“I’ve got a cover of Sports Illustrated here. It says, ‘Titans are NFL’s best team.’ Maybe they are,” Billick said. “But not today.”
That all led up to the divisional round matchup, with the Titans hosting the game by virtue of their 13-3 regular-season record and No. 1 overall seed. In the week leading up to the game, Ravens cornerback Chris McAlister told Sports Illustrated that, in the November game, a hit by linebacker Ray Lewis on Titans running back Eddie George changed the way George played the rest of the game.
“Every time Eddie touched the ball after that, he just folded like a baby,” McAlister said. “Check the film. He’d hit the hole and hit the ground first thing. He didn’t want any part of us.”
The bad blood didn’t stop there. Before the game began, the Titans ran a montage on the video board titled, “A Special Message from Brian Billick and the Baltimore Ravens,” which showed the Ravens celebrating on the sideline following the 24-23 win and Billick’s postgame speech.
What followed was a 14-point Ravens win in which Baltimore gained 134 yards of total offense and picked up a grand total of six first downs. Dilfer completed just five passes all day, but one was big: a 56-yard completion to tight end Shannon Sharpe, which set up a touchdown.
The Ravens’ other touchdowns came on special teams and defense. With the score tied at 10 early in the fourth quarter, Keith Washington blocked Titans kicker Al Del Greco’s field goal attempt, which was returned by Anthony Mitchell for a touchdown. Later in the frame, Lewis intercepted Tennessee quarterback Steve McNair and returned it for a score to ice the victory.
“When you have a chance to put your opponent out, take him out, that’s what he was about,” George said in 2018 of that game-clinching interception by Lewis. “He was about taking someone’s will and taking over. It wasn’t just about the win; it was about making a statement. It was a game within the game that most people don’t really understand.”
In his postgame news conference, an animated Billick explained the Ravens’ mentality entering Tennessee as only he could.
“When you go in the lion’s den, you don’t tippy-toe in. You carry a spear. You go in screaming like a banshee,” he said. “You kick whatever doors in, and say, ‘Where’s the son of a bitch?’ If you go in any other way, you’re going to lose.”
This playoff game contained many of the same actors as the January 2001 iteration but didn’t carry the same bad blood; the two teams were no longer AFC Central rivals, and the two hadn’t played each other in the regular season.
However, stars were all over the field when these two teams met in January 2004. That season, Titans quarterback Steve McNair shared MVP honors with Colts quarterback Peyton Manning; Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis won Defensive Player of the Year; Ravens running back Jamal Lewis rushed for 2,066 yards, and Ravens edge rusher Terrell Suggs won Defensive Rookie of the Year.
The Ravens held McNair to 14-of-23 passing, 159 yards and one touchdown — and picked him off three times — but it wasn’t enough. Ravens quarterback Anthony Wright, who took over the starting job midseason, wasn’t much better. Wright was 20-of-37 for 214 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions. Jamal Lewis was held to 35 yards rushing on a season-low 14 carries.
“I think they did soften up a little bit in the fourth quarter,” Lewis said after the game. “But we just didn’t stick with it. We didn’t pound it like we should have in the fourth quarter.”
Tennessee won the game on a 46-yard field goal by Gary Anderson with 29 seconds left. The Titans began their game-winning drive on their own 37-yard line with 2:44 left. Tennessee got that favorable field position thanks in part to an unnecessary roughness call on Ravens offensive tackle Orlando Brown, which had backed up Ravens punter Dave Zastudil 15 yards.
“It’s unfortunate,” Billick said of the penalty. “In the heat of the battle, things like that will happen. Those things will usually cost you like that.”
The game also marked Art Modell’s last game as majority owner of the Ravens. Current owner Steve Bisciotti took over in 2004.
This season, the Ravens are the AFC’s No. 1 seed and the Titans are the No. 6 seed. In the 2008 season, it was just the opposite. Tennessee was the No. 1 seed with a 13-3 record, while Baltimore was the No. 6 seed with an 11-5 mark. Both were powered by defense: The Titans were second in the league in scoring defense, while the Ravens were third.
Tennessee’s offense was led by the running-back duo of Chris Johnson, then a rookie, and LenDale White. Johnson, a threat as a runner and pass-catcher, totaled 1,488 yards from scrimmage that year, while White, a power back, complemented Johnson by running for 773 yards. Baltimore’s offense was led by rookie quarterback Joe Flacco, who leaned on veteran targets like receiver Derrick Mason and tight end Todd Heap.
The Titans piled up 391 yards of offense and held the ball for more than 34 minutes but struggled to score. They turned the ball over three times, including a pair of lost fumbles, and missed a field goal. Between the Titans’ missed opportunities and the Ravens’ big-play ability — Flacco hit Mason for a 48-yard touchdown pass in the first quarter — Baltimore was able to hang around.
With the score tied at 10 with 4:17 left in regulation, the Ravens began their game-winning march from their own 24-yard line. The biggest play was a 23-yard strike to Heap to the Titans’ 45 on third down. An 11-yard scamper by running back Willis McGahee and an 8-yard out to receiver Mark Clayton got kicker Matt Stover within range, and Stover won the game.
After the game, Titans head coach Jeff Fisher voiced his displeasure that no delay-of-game penalty was called on the play that led to the Heap catch; the play clock had hit zero before the ball was snapped.
“I’ve always maintained that there’s a human element in the game as far as officiating is concerned. [They’re] going to make mistakes; it is part of our game,” Fisher said. “But this particular mistake was unacceptable. There is no excuse for it, it was a mistake, and it was a costly mistake.
“It was not the reason we lost the game, but it was a mistake, an error.”
Photo Credit: Sabina Moran/PressBox