The wild-card matchup between the Ravens and Titans marks the fifth time the two teams have met in the playoffs. Baltimore and Tennessee have won two games apiece, with the Ravens winning in the 2000 and 2008 playoffs and the Titans winning in the 2003 and 2019 playoffs.
Here’s a look back at those games.
(A similar story ran prior to the Ravens-Titans 2019 divisional round game.)
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 in addition to 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 2003 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.
Heading into these playoffs, 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.”
This will probably always stand as one of the most disappointing losses in franchise history. The Ravens had won 14 regular-season games and secured the No. 1 seed in the AFC for the first time ever. They entered the game on a 12-game winning streak with soon-to-be NFL MVP Lamar Jackson in tow. Baltimore totaled 3,296 yards on the ground during the regular season, the top mark in NFL history. Its defense was No. 4 in the league in yards per game and No. 3 in points per game. The Ravens scored 249 more points than their opponents during the regular season.
The Titans entered the game in good shape as well, having won five of their final seven regular-season games and beating the Patriots in New England during the wild-card round. Still, the stage seemed set for a Ravens-Chiefs showdown in Baltimore for the AFC crown a week later.
And then the Ravens laid an egg.
Observers wondered throughout the season whether the Ravens could win in the playoffs if they fell behind by multiple scores given the run-first nature of their offense. The Titans put that to the test; they jumped to a 14-0 lead, after which the Ravens seemingly panicked. Jackson threw 59 times, and Ravens running backs Mark Ingram and Gus Edwards ran a total of nine times.
Baltimore also lost all the high-leverage plays. Part of the Ravens’ identity during the 2019 season was their aggressive approach on fourth down to push for touchdowns instead of field goals. A failed fourth-and-1 on the first play of the second quarter immediately led to a 45-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Ryan Tannehill to receiver Kalif Raymond. Another failed fourth-and-1 in the third quarter led to a 66-yard run by Derrick Henry and a Henry trick-play touchdown pass to receiver Corey Davis.
Baltimore had lost to the Los Angeles Chargers in the wild-card round the year prior.
“The sad reality of it is … we’ve been here two years in a row and we’ve lost,” cornerback Marlon Humphrey said after the game. “So I think you’ve got to look yourself in the mirror. This team right now, its identity is to get to the playoffs and choke. It is what it is. It’s just a hard truth.”
The Ravens have a chance to change the narrative Jan. 10.
Photo Credit: Kenya Allen/PressBox