Ravens defensive end Jihad Ward, who recorded a pass defense and tackle for loss on the same play during Baltimore’s win against the Tennessee Titans Jan. 10, said the victory was “very, very personal” for the Ravens, who had lost twice in the previous calendar year to Tennessee.
The Titans beat the Ravens, 28-12 in the divisional round of the 2019 playoffs to put an end to top-seeded Baltimore’s 12-game winning streak, and then the Titans beat the Ravens, 30-24, in Week 11 this year. Tennessee’s players had gathered at midfield on the Ravens’ logo for their pregame huddle prior to the Week 11 kickoff, and Baltimore head coach John Harbaugh took issue with that.
After Ravens cornerback Marcus Peters all but iced the 20-13 victory by intercepting Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill with 1:50 left in regulation, Peters led the defense in a celebration on the Titans’ midfield logo. And after Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson took a knee to salt away the final seconds, he led his teammates off the field without shaking hands with the Titans.
Ward was in on that logo celebration Jan. 10 and was on last year’s team, too.
“It was very, very personal,” Ward said on Glenn Clark Radio Jan. 12. “Me personally, I got tired of seeing that loss in the playoffs and then they beat us [in Week 11]. I was inactive [that] game in the regular season, so when I see that, I was like, ‘I’m tired of losing to these guys.’ Once you get tired of something, it’s whatever. This game was definitely personal. It’s all about the playoffs and all that stuff, but it was personal for us, I would say.”
Ward said he didn’t catch the Titans huddling at midfield or cornerback Malcolm Butler arguing with Harbaugh as it was happening prior to the Week 11 kickoff. But after it was determined that the Ravens would face the Titans in the wild-card round of the playoffs, Ward said fans kept sending him motivational messages on social media about the Titans gathering on the Ravens’ logo.
Ward said they didn’t quite serve as motivation, but nevertheless he got the message.
“I was like, ‘Yo, this is crazy’ … and when I got in the locker room I was like, ‘Is it me or are fans hitting us up with this logo, I don’t understand it,'” Ward said. “I think Willie Snead or somebody else was like, ‘Yeah man, I’ve been getting the same shit. I didn’t know what was going on.’
“Everybody was trying to make it like we were supposed to get angry. We know what they did. And then when we won the game we did what we had to do. I guess we stomped on the logo. We got the last laugh at that. It was a good moment, I would say.”
Ward’s efforts helped make that last laugh possible. The Ravens’ defensive front turned in its best game of the season, holding All-Pro running back Derrick Henry to 40 yards on 18 carries after he had combined for 328 rushing yards in his last two games against the Ravens. Pernell McPhee (six tackles), Derek Wolfe (six), Matthew Judon (three) and Ward (three) were among those instrumental in shutting down Henry.
And Ward made sure the Titans didn’t score points at the end of the first half almost all by himself. After the Ravens scored a touchdown to knot the score at 10 with 2:32 left in the first half, the Titans had a chance to get some points themselves. The Titans’ first play was a screen pass by quarterback Ryan Tannehill that was intended for tight end Jonnu Smith. The pass was batted into the air by Ward and caught by Tannehill, who was then tackled by Ward for a 10-yard loss — a drive-killer for Tennessee.
The play was reminiscent of one in the divisional-round matchup between the Ravens and Titans some 20 years ago. The key to the play, according to Ward, was recognizing screen early.
“You had Jonnu, he tried to block me and then the next thing you know, he released me,” Ward explained. “It’s hard to get sacks in this league. You’re not going to let me go and get a free sack, so you know it was a screen pass and I did what I had to do now. Most quarterbacks, they’re not really going to throw to the side, they’re going to try to throw over me. So I thought he was going to throw over me. It hit my chest, then it went up on my face mask. I tried to get the pick, but I didn’t so it came right back to him and I just tried to make a play.”
Ward said he often catches passes from Jackson, Trace McSorley and Tyler Huntley before practice, but on this occasion his hands didn’t come through for him.
“If the play came back, I definitely think I would’ve gotten it, but I’ve just got to get on that JUGS machine,” Ward said. “Next time, if it comes it comes, but you don’t get opportunities like that. I do be catching the ball when Lamar’s throwing before practice and all that.”
Ward also the discussed the following topics …
On having Lamar Jackson’s back heading into the Titans game:
“We’ve got Lamar 100 percent. We’ve got him right or wrong. That’s our quarterback. That’s not even just Lamar. I’m just talking about team-wise. We’ve got each other’s backs. We’re not going to do no favoritism over here. We’re all a unit. We’ve got Lamar’s back and whatever player that you’re thinking of, we’ve got their back. There’s no singling a person out. We’ve got each other’s backs. Lamar’s a hell of a player. You know he’s going to continue to do him. He’s a hell of a guy, man.”
On counseling his rookie teammates through their first season:
“I set up a meeting with those guys and had them express their feelings about learning the whole season, like dealing with training, dealing with Senior Bowl, Combine and stuff like that. That stuff is hard. That stuff is rough. Mostly all rookies seem to be like, ‘Man, when is this stuff going to end?’ But I always tell them to enjoy every moment because everything isn’t promised. The faces that you see now, they’ll be gone so you have to enjoy every moment of every season. Once you leave, you don’t want to leave this league and regret it. You want to leave this league like, ‘Damn, I lived it.’ Once I talked to them about that, that gave them a better picture of the season. Now they believe it and now they’re enjoying it. These rookies out here, they’re doing what they have to do and I can’t thank the rookies enough.”
On the team’s attitude heading into Buffalo:
“Just do us. Continue to do us. Don’t try to do nothing new. Don’t try to be something that you’re not. Just be yourself. Keep continuing doing what you do – practice, take care of your body. The stuff that we do, we just do more of that body-wise. … Don’t come all, ‘I’m ready for this.’ Don’t have all this stuff hitting you. Continue being you. Just stay focused and all that stuff and just be regular. Just play the game. Don’t be walking around here just so uptight. Make sure your mind is like water, if you understand that.”
For more from Ward, listen to the full interview here:
Photo Credit: Kenya Allen/PressBox