Tag Archive | "titans"

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Ravens regular-season moment No. 3: Dilfer’s redemption

Posted on 25 June 2020 by Luke Jones

Check out the No. 4 regular-season moment in Ravens history HERE.

The Tennessee Titans were the defending AFC champions and the NFL’s best team while the Ravens were still trying to regroup entering Week 11 of the 2000 season.

The good vibes and playoff aspirations accompanying a 5-1 start had dimmed with a three-game losing streak and an unthinkable five-game stretch in which the Ravens failed to score a single touchdown. Baltimore had finally snapped that futility with a 27-7 win at Cincinnati the previous week, but beating the lowly Bengals wasn’t convincing anyone that Brian Billick’s team was truly back on track.

Just three weeks earlier, the Ravens had suffered a home loss to the 8-1 Titans, a game in which starting quarterback Tony Banks was benched in favor of Trent Dilfer. The sixth overall pick of the 1994 draft and former Tampa Bay quarterback had thrown three touchdowns in the win over the Bengals in his second start, but going to Adelphia Coliseum — a place where Tennessee hadn’t lost since its opening the previous year — was a much different test for someone with a reputation for making the critical mistake at the worst time.

The clash between the AFC Central rivals and best defenses in the league started perfectly for Baltimore as Dilfer’s 46-yard touchdown pass to Qadry Ismail and a Jamal Lewis 2-yard touchdown run made it 14-0, but Titans quarterback Steve McNair threw two touchdowns in the second quarter as the Ravens held a narrow 17-14 lead at halftime. That score held until the fourth quarter when Titans kicker Al Del Greco tied the game with a 23-yard field goal with a little over eight minutes to play.

After punting on the ensuing possession, the Ravens got the ball back deep in Tennessee territory when Peter Boulware stripped a scrambling McNair on third down and Rob Burnett recovered the fumble at the 22-yard line with 4:07 remaining. Considering the way the Baltimore defense had played in the second half, even a field goal would be a perfectly fine outcome if Dilfer and the offense could trim time off the clock.

But on third-and-7, disaster struck as Dilfer’s pass intended for speedy wide receiver Patrick Johnson was intercepted by Titans safety Perry Phenix and returned 87 yards for the go-ahead touchdown with 2:30 to go. It was the kind of play that had too often doomed Dilfer in Tampa Bay and seemingly sunk the Ravens in a game they desperately wanted to win.

However, Del Greco’s first missed extra point in seven years offered a sliver of hope if Dilfer could regroup against a defense that had blanked Baltimore since the second quarter. The 28-year-old now had the chance to rewrite his story or to leave Billick further pondering his quarterback problems with Thanksgiving right around the corner.

The two-minute drive was far from pretty as the Ravens committed two penalties and faced a third-and-5 from their own 35 when a scrambling Dilfer found veteran tight end Shannon Sharpe downfield for a critical 36-yard completion. Nothing came easy on the next set of downs either as Dilfer threw deep and incomplete to Ismail on fourth-and-2.

But a penalty flag came as Tennessee cornerback Dainon Sidney collided with Ismail just short of the goal line for pass interference. The Ravens had a first down from the 2 with 49 seconds remaining.

After Lewis was stuffed for no gain on first down and the ball was spiked to stop the clock to set up a third-and-goal from the 2, Dilfer rolled to his right and fired a strike to Johnson, who kept his feet inbounds for the touchdown with 25 seconds to go.

Not only was Johnson the man Dilfer had targeted on his abysmal interception minutes earlier, but the former second-round pick who’d never lived up to expectations dropped a potential touchdown earlier that day. The extra point by Matt Stover gave the Ravens a 24-23 lead as Dilfer had answered the call.

“For me, poise is just trusting the people around me,” Dilfer said after the game. “I’ve lacked poise in my career because I didn’t trust what’s going on around me. I told these guys I’ve worked my whole career to play with a bunch of guys like this.”

The redemption story wasn’t quite complete, however, as McNair completed an 11-yard pass and then furiously broke free for a 20-yard scramble to move the Titans to the Baltimore 25 with only three seconds to go. Regarded as one of the league’s most reliable kickers for years, Del Greco would have his own chance at redemption with a 43-yard try to win it for Tennessee.

The kick faded wide right as Dilfer fell facedown in relief and Billick raised his arms in victory on the sideline. A game the Ravens had seemingly won, lost, won, and lost again ended in a critical 24-23 victory.

Dilfer wouldn’t be asked to be much more than a game manager for the rest of the season as a historic defense and strong running game led the way, but that touchdown drive spawned confidence that Baltimore could win with him under center. The win showed the Ravens could beat anybody anywhere and were legitimate Super Bowl contenders despite their troubling midseason swoon.

No one knew exactly what would unfold in the coming weeks and months, but anything seemed possible after that last-second win over the mighty Titans.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if we have to come back here for the playoffs,” right tackle Harry Swayne said after the game. “If that’s the case, it’d be like, ‘We’ve been here. Let’s do it again.'”

The words proved prophetic two months later as another hard-fought win at Adelphia Coliseum in the divisional round — complete with more Del Greco woes — proved to be the defining stop on the Ravens’ path to their first Super Bowl.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts with virtual offseason program winding down

Posted on 22 June 2020 by Luke Jones

With the virtual offseason workout program concluding and attention turning toward the uncertainty of opening training camp next month, I’ve offered a dozen Ravens thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Despite Dr. Anthony Fauci’s recent comments and positive cases around the NFL, John Harbaugh remains optimistic about playing the season, saying he won’t “run scared from a virus” while also acknowledging uncertainty and following protocols. Some will interpret that as cavalier, but coaches and players must prepare with full commitment.

2. All teams are in the same boat, of course, but Harbaugh predictably acknowledged the Ravens being “behind” where they’d normally be at this point. Much like it was with the 2011 lockout, continuity should be in Baltimore’s favor both with the coaching ranks and the roster.

3. With the NFLPA recommending players refrain from gathering for private workouts due to recent increases in positive cases, you wonder how rough those early practices could be even if training camp begins on time. At least with that 2011 lockout, players could work out together as much as they wanted.

4. Asked about Lamar Jackson playing beach football and hurdling a jet ski, Harbaugh said any conversation he’s had with the league MVP it will remain internal. It’s not the first or last time a team will hope to see a young star exercise a bit more caution. No biggie.

5. While describing Matt Skura’s recovery from a major knee injury as “remarkable,” Harbaugh said the Ravens should be fully healthy going into training camp and will “roll from there.” The health of players will definitely carry some additional connotations for the coming season.

6. Harbaugh is “very anxious” to see D.J. Fluker compete this summer and has been pleased with the veteran guard’s ability to learn the offense and keep up with the training program. It’s strange to remember coaches have yet to meet many newcomers to their rosters.

7. Asked about undrafted free agents and the increased difficulty those players could face in making the team, Harbaugh even lamented individuals who never got their chance to try out at rookie camp and be signed to the 90-man roster later on. Justin Tucker fit that description in 2012.

8. Those challenges as well as the reality of trying to play through a pandemic is why potentially expanding practice squads from 12 to as many as 16 players makes perfect sense. Keeping more talent in organizations would ease short-term outbreak concerns and benefit these players in the long run.

9. Baltimore has expressed interest in Pro Bowl safety Jamal Adams before, but giving up what would likely be premium draft picks and committing to another top-of-the-market extension in addition to the upcoming deals we’ve discussed ad nauseam feels farfetched. But you never know.

10. According to Inside the League’s Neil Stratton, longtime scout Lonnie Young has retired to enter the private sector after more than a decade with the Ravens. You hate losing experience, but a successful organization is used to seeing good people move on from time to time.

11. Harbaugh said he respects Jackson’s recent comments about the Ravens taking Tennessee too lightly while disagreeing with the sentiment, saying his team “just didn’t play well.” That’s certainly true, but I’ll maintain having that extra week to hear such effusive praise from everyone didn’t help.

12. I try to avoid “hot takes” from national media types, but a year in which a pandemic canceled the normal spring program, is threatening to disrupt training camp, and could result in any player testing positive at any point isn’t when I’m going to ponder the Ravens going 16-0. Sorry.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts on drafting LSU linebacker Patrick Queen

Posted on 24 April 2020 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens selecting LSU inside linebacker Patrick Queen with the 28th overall pick of the 2020 draft, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. A 20-year-old undersized inside linebacker from a college football powerhouse selected late in the first round sparks memories of a certain Hall of Famer. Even Lamar Jackson was calling Queen “Ray Lewis Jr.” on Instagram Live after the pick was made. No pressure.

2. Queen is “so tired of hearing” his 6-foot, 231-pound frame is undersized and believes he’s “more mobile” than Lewis was while making clear the Baltimore legend was “probably the best to play.” I like that confidence in someone who had to wait his turn behind former Tigers teammate Devin White.

3. Wink Martindale did an admirable job rotating inside linebackers last year, but having a three-down starter with a high ceiling and cover ability will make life much easier. Queen’s speed also makes him an enticing blitz option in the same way the Ravens used Patrick Onwuasor.

4. Fair concerns about Queen’s size should be eased by the additions of Calais Campbell and Derek Wolfe up front. Lewis was at his absolute best playing behind the likes of Sam Adams, Tony Siragusa, Haloti Ngata, and Trevor Pryce, so a big defensive line should help Queen roam more freely.

5. Remarkably, it took 25 years for the Ravens to finally draft a player from LSU, an elite SEC program that’s won three national championships since 2003. In contrast, Baltimore has selected multiple players from Central Florida, Louisiana Tech, New Mexico State, and Weber State. Go figure.

6. Asked how Ozzie Newsome reacted to an LSU draft pick, Eric DeCosta said, “He kept saying something, but we muted him. He kept waving his hands, and the video went out. That’s the thing with technology sometimes — it can be manipulated. I think it was the Russians.” Funny stuff.

7. You wonder about a college player who only started one year, but Queen really stood out against Georgia, Oklahoma, and Clemson and was named defensive MVP of the national championship game. Excelling against top competition seems to be a good trade-off for the lack of starting experience.

8. Queen is the fifth linebacker to be drafted by the Ravens in the first round, joining Lewis, Peter Boulware, Terrell Suggs, and C.J. Mosley. The first four each made at least four Pro Bowls and combined for 28 in Baltimore. Again, no pressure.

9. Credit DeCosta’s patience as options such as edge rusher K’Lavon Chaisson, linebacker Kenneth Murray, and center Cesar Ruiz started coming off the board in the early 20s. Standing pat in the first round for the first time since 2017, the Ravens protected their remaining six picks in the top 150.

10. General managers always say the player they picked topped their board, but that appeared to be the truth with Queen, who fit one of Baltimore’s biggest needs. DeCosta said he received a congratulatory text from Dallas defensive coordinator and former Ravens assistant Mike Nolan for his pick.

11. DeCosta is dedicating this draft to former Ravens scout Ron Marciniak, who died at 85 last month and was the creator of the famous “red star” meeting in which each scout picks a draft prospect who stands above the rest on and off the field. It was a classy gesture.

12. Credit the NFL, ESPN, and NFL Network for pulling off a quality broadcast despite such challenging circumstances, but there was so much going on in this scene at Tennessee head coach Mike Vrabel’s house that I haven’t a clue what to even say.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts on Marshal Yanda’s retirement

Posted on 11 March 2020 by Luke Jones

With eight-time Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda officially announcing his retirement after 13 seasons, I’ve offered a dozen Ravens thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. The 35-year-old stated his desire to walk away still playing at a high level and to be in a position where he’s still wanted. Yanda didn’t want to hold on and eventually become “like a liability.” That’s been a difficult call for even some of the franchise’s all-time greats.

2. Yanda knew 2019 would very likely be his final season, no matter how it went. The best evidence of that is the 45 pounds he’s lost since his final game. Not even the joy he experienced in a 14-2 season and the bitter playoff defeat prompted him to really waver.

3. Always showing great respect for opponents, Yanda admitting he felt there was “no doubt” the Ravens would find a way to beat Tennessee — “even if we played bad for three quarters” — speaks to lingering shock. However, he still prepared his family for that possibility and took photos after the game.

4. With Jonathan Ogden sidelined, Yanda lined up as the starting left tackle for the first padded practice of his career and was outclassed by Terrell Suggs, prompting the rookie to wonder if he “had what it took” for the NFL. It’s a story he frequently shared with younger players.

5. Still working his way back from a serious knee injury from the previous year, Yanda said he was never more nervous for a game than in Week 12 against Pittsburgh in 2009 when given the opportunity to permanently rejoin the starting lineup. He played well, and the rest was history.

6. Yanda was reluctant to discuss the possibility of the Hall of Fame, but, to no surprise, Eric DeCosta confirmed he’d go into the Ring of Honor in the “very near future.” The projected line is getting crowded with Haloti Ngata up next and some other slam dunks on the horizon.

7. In the process of thanking Brian Billick as his first NFL coach, Yanda said he kept his head down and didn’t say anything as a rookie. “That’s just the way I loved rookies — head down, quiet, do your job, and you’ll earn your respect.” Honest words from a throwback guy.

8. Joe Flacco was among the former Ravens teammates present, a classy move from the Super Bowl XLVII MVP who made the drive from New Jersey. The turnout for the press conference at a time of year when players tend to be all over the place reflected their admiration for Yanda.

9. The Ravens public relations staff did a great job collecting statements from many current and former teammates and coaches, but comments from some of Yanda’s peers around the league reinforced how much he’s respected as a player. Opposing defensive linemen certainly won’t miss him on Sundays.

10. Speaking after the press conference, Matt Skura said he saw meaningful growth from new right guard candidate Ben Powers last season, but what happens in free agency will better reflect the confidence level in the 2019 fourth-round pick. Adding a viable veteran to at least compete would be ideal.

11. Ex-Raven Kelechi Osemele has been mentioned as a free-agent possibility, but the 30-year-old has played only 14 games over the last two years and has remained at left guard since leaving after the 2015 season. That said, I could see a reunion at a reasonable price.

12. As tough as they come and cooperative with reporters throughout his career, Yanda lit up speaking about being able to spend more time with his wife and three children, who wore No. 73 Ravens jerseys with “Dad” on the nameplate. Congratulations to one of the best I’ve ever covered.

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Jackson, Harbaugh earn NFL honors, but lasting word on 2019 still unwritten

Posted on 01 February 2020 by Luke Jones

The Ravens stole the show in Miami on Saturday night.

After weeks of using the words “expected,” “anticipated,” “favorite,” or “lock,” we could officially call second-year quarterback Lamar Jackson the 2019 AP NFL Most Valuable Player. The 2016 Heisman Trophy winner became the second-youngest MVP in league history — only Jim Brown was younger in 1957 — and only the second unanimous choice, joining Tom Brady in 2010. He’s the first Raven and fourth Baltimore player to be named AP NFL MVP, joining old Colts quarterbacks Johnny Unitas (1959, 1964, 1967), Earl Morrall (1968), and Bert Jones (1976).

His electrifying efficiency was unlike anything we’ve ever seen as Jackson shattered the single-season rushing record for a quarterback, led the league in touchdown passes, and set a slew of other records ahead of his 23rd birthday last month. His otherworldly highlights and unparalleled dual-threat ability made the Ravens the toast of the football world in the regular season, rare territory for a team historically viewed as an underdog despite its overall success.

Beginning with a record-setting five-touchdown performance and perfect passer rating 30 miles from his native Pompano Beach, Fla. in the season opener and never looking back, Jackson returned to Miami to accept the MVP award that had been all but a foregone conclusion since the last of the Thanksgiving leftovers were being polished off. In a city with no shortage of Hall of Famers and former MVPs, few have captivated Baltimore quite like Jackson after the most remarkable individual season in the Ravens’ 24-year history.

His arrival comes at a time when the city needs as much inspiration as it can get, but his impact extends beyond Charm City, evident by the reaction to Saturday’s announcement.

We’re watching someone special.

Of course, Jackson wasn’t alone as John Harbaugh won AP Coach of the Year for the first time in his career and offensive coordinator Greg Roman was voted AP Assistant Coach of the Year. Though not the same overwhelming favorite as Jackson, Harbaugh leading the Ravens to a franchise-best 14-2 record, a team-record 12 straight wins, and their first No. 1 seed made him an appropriate choice before even considering the coaching staff’s offseason reconstruction of the offense or his ahead-of-the-curve use of analytics.

The honor only adds to an impressive body of work over 12 seasons as Harbaugh already owns a Super Bowl championship, four AFC North division titles, 10 playoff wins, and eight postseason appearances. The first Ravens head coach to earn the NFL award, Harbaugh joins Weeb Ewbank (1958), Don Shula (1964, 1967, 1968), and Ted Marchibroda (1975) as Baltimore head men to win NFL Coach of the Year. Having now coached the Ravens for half of their existence, Harbaugh is building a resume that will leave him in very exclusive company if he remains on a similar track.

But Saturday wasn’t the culmination Jackson, Harbaugh, and the Ravens envisioned a month ago if we’re being reflective on the eve of the Super Bowl. After one of the best regular seasons of the 21st century, Baltimore fell short of expectations in January, the kind of pain those accolades only do so much to dull right now. Both referred to their individual honors as team awards, but the Ravens wanted to be preparing to play for the ultimate team prize the following night instead of being dressed to the nines on the red carpet.

Jackson and Harbaugh became just the 12th MVP-Coach of the Year combination for the same team, but all but two of the first 11 at least made it to the Super Bowl or NFL championship game, a reminder of a great opportunity missed. That doesn’t dismiss a regular season that was as special as it gets, but the final word on the Ravens’ 2019 legacy has yet to be written and will be shaped by the context of next season and beyond.

If Baltimore wins the Super Bowl a year from now, we’ll remember the end of this season more as the precursor to better things to come, regardless of whether Jackson repeats as MVP, Harbaugh is again voted top coach, or the Ravens are able to match a 14-2 mark. The agonizing memory of Lee Evans, Billy Cundiff, and the 2011 AFC Championship loss didn’t feel so bad after Joe Flacco and the Ravens raised the Vince Lombardi Trophy a year later. But we also know next season will be a clean slate with new challenges and no guarantees along the way.

Perhaps the most comforting perspective is knowing one of the teams sporting both the MVP and Coach of the Year that didn’t make it to the Super Bowl was the 2010 New England Patriots, who also went 14-2 before being bounced at home in the divisional round. If it could happen to Brady and Bill Belichick, it can happen to anyone, right? The Patriots would claim three more Super Bowl championships over the next decade, leaving 2010 as little more than a blip over two decades of dominance.

Last month’s playoff loss to Tennessee was an abrupt reminder of the late-season dynasty chatter being way too premature, but the Ravens will have their shot at redemption and Jackson and Harbaugh their opportunity to fortify their legacies as soon as 12 months from now. Beyond the question of longevity that any young player faces, Jackson now needs only a Super Bowl championship to stake his claim as a generational quarterback with strong Hall of Fame aspirations. If that sounds overly bold, count the number of quarterbacks who failed to be enshrined despite winning a league MVP and Super Bowl title over the course of their careers.

Another Super Bowl championship for Harbaugh — with a different starting quarterback this time — would make him all but a lock for Canton one day.

Make no mistake, the Ravens owning the spotlight the night before the Super Bowl is deserving of some celebration after the hangover of these last few weeks.

But Jackson and Harbaugh winning the Lombardi Trophy in Tampa next February will make the lasting memory of 2019 — even its bitterly disappointing ending — that much better.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts ahead of Super Bowl LIV

Posted on 23 January 2020 by Luke Jones

With a number of Ravens players and coaches at the Pro Bowl this week and the organization shifting into offseason mode, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. The disappointment of an early playoff exit remains, but seeing Lamar Jackson interact with young fans and other players in Orlando is a reminder of how special this season was for the MVP quarterback. Even if it is just the Pro Bowl, the 23-year-old having that stage is pretty great.

2. Six weeks ago, Terrell Suggs was playing out the string for a last-place team and his former team was the clear Super Bowl favorite. The 37-year-old being the one to play for an NFL championship next week is your latest reminder that sports are weird sometimes.

3. After rushing for 297 yards and one touchdown from 2015-18, Raheem Mostert ran for 220 yards and four touchdowns in the NFC Championship game. There’s no need for an indictment of the Ravens or the five other teams with which the 27-year-old played before San Francisco to appreciate this story.

4. Eric DeCosta must prepare for life without Marshal Yanda, but the Ravens shouldn’t pressure the eight-time Pro Bowl guard into a decision anytime soon. Jonathan Ogden didn’t make his final call on retirement until June. You can always make room for an elite player’s return.

5. Job situations are fluid this time of year, but the coaching staff remaining intact is surprising. That really speaks to the working environment created by John Harbaugh and how the organization has taken care of its assistants.

6. I see no reason why Matthew Judon wouldn’t hit the market, but I’m curious how Baltimore’s need at outside linebacker and Za’Darius Smith’s performance in Green Bay might impact Judon’s valuation. Yes, we’ll hear “right player, right price,” but that’s always a moving target involving many variables.

7. Skepticism remains when it comes to wide receiver, but the goal should be an impact addition to help this offense play off schedule like it was forced to do in the playoff loss. Whether that’s a veteran or someone from a deep wide receiver draft class remains to be seen.

8. After finishing sixth or better for seven straight seasons in Rick Gosselin’s renowned special teams rankings, Baltimore fell to 27th. Football Outsiders ranked the Ravens 10th in special-teams efficiency and 24th in weighted efficiency, reflecting late-season struggles. There’s some work to do in that phase this offseason.

9. Harbaugh said the Ravens had their “best year” in terms of injuries, which is debatable after a really healthy 2018. Credit goes to their efforts revamping their strength, conditioning, and nutrition programs, but luck is also a factor, which picks at the wound of a 14-2 team not advancing further.

10. Nearly $30 million in salary cap space prompts much discussion about free agents, but extending Ronnie Stanley should be a top priority with Marlon Humphrey on deck. A new Jackson contract could come as soon as next year. Outside additions are great, but keeping this core together is paramount.

11. Harbaugh said he’d probably go the other way handling Week 17 if Baltimore is back in that spot. Correlation doesn’t imply causation. Rust was a possible factor, but Jackson taking the shots Pittsburgh gave Robert Griffin III and getting hurt in a meaningless game would have definitely been a factor.

12. Asked about any perception that Tennessee had solved his offense, Harbaugh said, “If you think anybody has the answer in football, just wait until the next week and you’ll find out.” The Ravens may not go 14-2 again or break records in 2020, but the future remains very promising.

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Tennessee Titans running back Derrick Henry (22) runs against the Baltimore Ravens during the first half an NFL divisional playoff football game, Saturday, Jan. 11, 2020, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following playoff loss to Tennessee

Posted on 14 January 2020 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens seeing their season come to an end in a shocking 28-12 divisional-round playoff loss to Tennessee, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Those wondering how Baltimore would handle playing from behind couldn’t have liked the answer, but perception wasn’t helped watching Patrick Mahomes and Kansas City erase a 24-point deficit like it was nothing and Russell Wilson nearly bringing Seattle back at Lambeau. Improvement there is the next step for this offense.

2. Lamar Jackson was the first to say he didn’t play very well, but drops were a big problem as you could point to as many as seven passes that should have been caught — even if some weren’t on target. Another impactful wide receiver would be ideal in Jackson’s continued development.

3. I’m not sure why Gus Edwards received so few touches with Mark Ingram not 100 percent, but the last drive of the first half (13 dropbacks) and the fourth quarter (27 dropbacks) really skewed the run-pass ratio on which many are dwelling. Still, Greg Roman seemed out of sorts.

4. Committing to run is tough when gaining 38 yards on the first 22 first-down plays. However, as Twitter user @Yoshi2052 noted, there wasn’t a designed run on first down after the 9:03 mark of the second quarter. Baltimore netted one yard or worse on 24 of 40 first-down snaps. Yuck.

5. Tennessee’s 217 rushing yards were the fourth most allowed by the Ravens in team history. A run defense ranking 21st in yards per carry allowed (a franchise-worst 4.4) and 19th in efficiency benefited from playing with big leads all season. Upgrades at inside and outside linebacker are in order.

6. It was a tough time for Pro Bowl outside linebacker Matthew Judon to have one of his worst games. His missed tackle on a Ryan Tannehill third-down scramble extended the Titans’ first touchdown drive, and he missed another on Derrick Henry’s soul-crushing 66-yard run in the third quarter.

7. Sorry, I’m not going to knock John Harbaugh for doing what he did all year on fourth-and-1 situations after the Ravens went 8-for-8 in that department during the regular season. You’re going to bust sometimes at the Blackjack table, and it just happened at the worst possible time — twice.

8. The Titans were set up on a short field for three of their four touchdowns, but the Baltimore defense offered no sudden-change impact or resistance inside the red zone. The Ravens just couldn’t make the game-changing play on either side of the ball all night.

9. Few Ravens players stood out against Tennessee in positive ways, but Marquise Brown reminded once again why his future is bright with an offseason to now get his surgically-repaired foot 100 percent. His slight stature will always be a concern, but some unique ability is there.

10. Special teams offered no favors with a Brynden Trawick hold and a silly De’Anthony Thomas foul for blocking after calling a fair catch backing Baltimore up on second-quarter drives. The latter may have been the difference in needing to settle for a field goal before halftime.

11. After dominating with a 7-1 record and an incredible plus-159 point differential on the road this season, the Ravens fell to 3-4 in all-time home playoff games. They obviously earned the top seed with a 14-2 record, but home-field advantage probably wasn’t all that critical for this particular team.

12. While some opine about rust, is it possible blowing out Pittsburgh without Jackson in Week 17 left the Ravens feeling a bit too invincible going into the bye week as the world sang how great they were? It’s all conjecture, of course. The best team doesn’t always win. 

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Ravens must endure “hard truth” until back on January stage

Posted on 13 January 2020 by Luke Jones

A few Ravens players described it as a nightmare, hoping to wake up Saturday morning with a mulligan.

Matthew Judon compared it to a car crash.

Lamar Jackson said the offense got “too excited” and out of its element “a little too fast” after falling behind early.

There was much blame to go around and plenty of theories why top-seeded Baltimore suffered a stunning 28-12 loss to Tennessee in the divisional round, but Marlon Humphrey’s words stung most for a team that had gone an NFL-best 14-2, won 12 straight games, and rewritten both the franchise and league record books during a magical regular season.

“We’ve been here two years in a row, and we’ve lost,” said Humphrey, citing last January’s wild-card home defeat to the Los Angeles Chargers. “I think you’ve got to look yourself in the mirror, and I think this team right now, its identity is to get in the playoffs and choke. It is what it is. That’s just the hard truth.”

The “choke” word is harsh, but it comes from someone who won a national championship and finished as runner-up in his other collegiate season at Alabama, where the standard is college football’s highest. When you dominate the NFL for three months before seeing your Super Bowl aspirations crumble in three hours against a 9-7 team in your home stadium, there are few scenarios in the sporting realm where the term is more appropriate. Setting numerous records and finishing with the NFL’s highest point differential (plus-249) since 16-0 New England in 2007, the Ravens indeed fell short of the expectations they’d created for themselves, let alone what media or fans anticipated going into the playoffs.

No matter how disappointing Saturday night was in Baltimore, the future remains as bright for the Ravens as any team in football. Jackson was far from his best — as you could say about virtually every other Raven against the Titans — but the dynamic 23-year-old will be the NFL MVP and leads a young, innovative, and record-setting offense with virtually everyone under contract for 2020. Barring something completely unforeseen, coordinators Greg Roman and Wink Martindale will both return after failing to land head coaching jobs elsewhere. And thanks to having a franchise quarterback entering the third season of his rookie contract, general manager Eric DeCosta begins the offseason with over $30 million in salary cap space before any potential maneuvering to clear more room.

But there are no guarantees, which makes laying the divisional-round egg that much more difficult to accept. Despite how easy the Ravens made it look all season, so much has to go remarkably well to go 14-2 and secure home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, some of it out of a team’s control. That’s not to say such a sterling record or the top seed is a requisite for a championship — the 2000 and 2012 teams send their regards — but luck plays a bigger part in a Super Bowl run than most want to admit. A first-round bye and playing at home is like being able to hedge your bets, much like John Harbaugh did by wisely not risking injury to Jackson and the handful of other key starters in the regular-season finale against Pittsburgh.

Optimists will frame this as part of Baltimore’s journey to its next Super Bowl title, recalling the heartbreak of the 2011 AFC Championship game and how the 2012 Ravens would go on to finish the job despite not achieving the same level of regular-season success. On the other hand, the 2006 Ravens lost at home to Indianapolis in the divisional round and regressed from a then-franchise-best 13-3 record to a 5-11 injury-plagued disaster in 2007.

Of the previous five NFL teams to secure a No. 1 seed and lose in the divisional round, two got to the Super Bowl the next year and lost, one fell in the divisional round again, another lost a wild-card playoff game, and the most recent — the 2016 Dallas Cowboys — failed to even reach the postseason the following year. The Denver Broncos (2012) would wait three years to win a Super Bowl while the Patriots (2010) wouldn’t win their next NFL championship for four more years after losing in the divisional round as No. 1 seeds. Those other three are still waiting for that redemptive Super Bowl title years later.

The Ravens indeed let a massive opportunity slip through their fingers, no matter how promising the future looks on paper.

The next 12 months will be a grind, for everyone from DeCosta and Harbaugh to Jackson and every other returning Raven who left the field in disappointment Saturday night. There are probably parallels you can draw with the infamous Super Bowl loser hangover except there being no January success from which Baltimore can draw after so much regular-season success.

Compartmentalizing and not giving into any thoughts of complacency or obsession about the postseason will be an unspoken challenge in the coming days, weeks, and months. As Harbaugh likes to say, you’re either getting better or you’re getting worse, a message he’ll surely convey over and over to his players from the moment they return to the team facility for the start of the offseason training program in April.

Fair or not, every shred of success next season will be met by a detractor saying, “That’s great, but what about January?” And there’s little the Ravens will really be able to say or do about that until next postseason — if all goes according to plan, of course.

Saturday’s defeat shouldn’t ruin what was the best regular season in franchise history. But much like the 2006 team that previously held that distinction and was much fun in its own right, these Ravens disappointed mightily in the postseason, the time when legacies are defined and feelings entrenched.

That’s just the hard truth.

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Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson (8) hands off to running back Mark Ingram (21) during the first half of an NFL football game against the Houston Texans, Sunday, Nov. 17, 2019, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

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Ravens-Titans: Inactives and pre-game notes

Posted on 11 January 2020 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — The Ravens have waited eight years since their last divisional-round home playoff game.

A win against Tennessee brings the AFC Championship game to Baltimore for the first time in 49 years and the first time in franchise history as Lamar Jackson and the top-seeded Ravens try to extend their franchise-record winning streak to 13 in a row.

Despite logging just one limited practice this week in his return from a left calf injury sustained three days before Christmas, Pro Bowl running back Mark Ingram is active and will play in Baltimore’s playoff opener. Unlike many players regarded as game-time decisions over the course of the season, Ingram didn’t go through an on-field workout prior to the inactive list being announced. Of course, top backup Gus Edwards and rookie Justice Hill are available in the event of Ingram suffering a setback.

As expected, tight end Mark Andrews is active despite being listed as questionable and being limited in practices throughout the week. He went through his normal pre-game workout with the other Ravens tight ends two hours prior to kickoff, but how explosive he looks will be worth monitoring as an ankle injury sustained in Week 16 has lingered. Andrews missed the regular-season finale against Pittsburgh and practiced with a wrap on his right ankle throughout the practice week.

Defensive back and special-teams contributor Jordan Richards was a healthy scratch for the first time since being signed in late October as the Ravens elected to activate reserve defensive tackle Justin Ellis. Cornerbacks Anthony Averett and Iman Marshall were also inactives with the Titans featuring NFL rushing champion Derrick Henry and the league’s third-ranked run offense.

Signed earlier this week to the 53-man roster, veteran offensive tackle Andre Smith was also deactivated.

There were no surprises among the Tennessee inactives after standout linebacker Jayon Brown (shoulder) and wide receiver Adam Humphries (ankle) were already ruled out on Thursday.

Saturday’s referee is Bill Vinovich.

According to Weather.com, the Saturday forecast calls for cloudy skies and unseasonably warm temperatures in the mid-60s with winds 10 to 20 miles per hour and only a slight chance of precipitation during the game. Not bad for January football in Baltimore.

The Ravens are wearing their purple jerseys with white pants for their playoff opener while Tennessee dons white tops with navy blue pants.

Former Baltimore quarterback and Super Bowl XXXV champion Trent Dilfer was recognized as the Ravens’ “Legend of the Game” prior to kickoff and offered the following gem on his way to the stadium:

Saturday marks the fourth postseason meeting between these teams with the Ravens holding a 2-1 advantage. However, the road team won each of the previous three meetings with the Titans falling to Baltimore in 2000 and 2008 despite being the top seed in the AFC. These old AFC Central rivals are tied 10-10 in their regular-season series history with the Ravens winning the most recent meeting last season.

Below are Saturday night’s inactives:

BALTIMORE
QB Trace McSorley
WR Jaleel Scott
DB Jordan Richards
CB Anthony Averett
CB Iman Marshall
G Ben Powers
OT Andre Smith

TENNESSEE
LB Jayon Brown
WR Adam Humphries
WR Rashard Davis
WR Cody Hollister
OL Kevin Pamphile
DT Joey Ivie
DT Isaiah Mack

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Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson (8) celebrates his touchdown run against the New England Patriots with offensive tackle Ronnie Stanley (79) during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 3, 2019, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Gail Burton)

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Ravens-Titans: Five predictions for Saturday night

Posted on 10 January 2020 by Luke Jones

There was a time when Ravens-Titans was the best rivalry in the NFL.

Divisional realignment all too quickly separated these old AFC Central foes, but Baltimore and Tennessee met three times in the playoffs in a nine-year period with each of the encounters memorable. We all remember Ray Lewis, Eddie George, Ed Reed, and Steve McNair, but even lesser names such as Anthony Mitchell and Gary Anderson elicit a reaction from both fan bases to this day.

We’ll see if Saturday’s divisional-round meeting provides the next instant classic or simply serves as another checkpoint for 14-2 Baltimore’s Super Bowl aspirations after a 12-game winning streak to close the regular season. An upset win would send the Titans to their first AFC Championship appearance since the 2002 season while the Ravens aim to advance to the conference championship for the first time since 2012 and host the AFC title game for the first time in franchise history.

It’s time to go on the record as these teams meet for the fourth time in the postseason with Baltimore holding a 2-1 edge and the road team prevailing each time. The Ravens and Titans are tied 10-10 in their regular-season history with Harbaugh’s team winning the most recent meeting, a 21-0 shutout in Nashville last season.

Below are five predictions for Saturday night:

1. Lamar Jackson will become the fourth quarterback in NFL history to rush for 100 yards in a playoff game. Trying to predict what happens with Mark Ingram and his lingering calf injury is tricky, but there’s no questioning Jackson’s involvement in the ground game after he carried the ball 11 or more times in eight games this year. Titans coach Mike Vrabel quipped the best way to slow Jackson is to tie his shoelaces together, but it’ll be interesting to see how the 23-year-old comes out of the gate in the biggest game of his life after three weeks off. It makes sense for Greg Roman to throw in an extra designed run or two early on to help his young quarterback settle in, but Jackson will play like the MVP.

2. Derrick Henry and A.J. Brown will each score for the Titans. The Tennessee offense isn’t as diverse as Baltimore, but it isn’t devoid of unique talent with the 2019 rushing champion and a 1,000-yard rookie receiver who finished second in the NFL in yards per catch (20.2). With the Ravens using nickel and dime packages so often to play to their strength in the secondary, it’ll be interesting to see how Wink Martindale balances the need to contain Henry while not allowing Brown or Corey Davis to get loose for Ryan Tannehill to take play-action shots. The Ravens rank 21st in yards per carry allowed and 19th in run defense efficiency, but an early lead would really neutralize Henry’s impact.

3. Marcus Peters will intercept a pass to stall a Tennessee drive. In a similar way to how Tannehill helped transform a stagnant Titans offense into one of the NFL’s best units, the acquisition of the ball-hawking Peters was the biggest factor in the dramatic improvement of the Ravens defense from the first month of the season. With Peters and a healthy Jimmy Smith on the field, Baltimore allowed 200 net passing yards only once in the final eight regular-season games. The Titans rank first in the NFL in red-zone touchdown percentage, but the Ravens are third in red-zone defense, meaning something will have to give. Three of Tannehill’s six interceptions this season came inside the red zone.

4. Hayden Hurst and Nick Boyle will catch red-zone touchdowns. Tennessee will be without top cover linebacker Jayon Brown due to a shoulder injury suffered last week, which is bad news for a defense that’s already had its problems covering tight ends this season. However, the effectiveness of Pro Bowl selection Mark Andrews will be something to monitor as he continued to be limited with a right ankle injury this week and hasn’t appeared to move very well during practice time open to reporters. Even if Andrews isn’t 100 percent, Hurst and Boyle are very capable of making plays in the passing game and could take advantage of the Titans devoting more attention to the top option at the position.

5. A fast start will neutralize Tennessee’s game plan and propel the Ravens to a 30-16 win. As I wrote earlier this week, Baltimore starting strong could be the difference between a comfortable blowout and a game that goes down to the wire with the way the Titans like to play and their confidence level after a big win in New England last week. You always wonder how a team will respond after extensive time between meaningful games, but the culture created by an accomplished head coach should alleviate concerns of potential rust or coming out flat. The Ravens are the best team in the NFL, have the league’s MVP, and enjoy home-field advantage while Tannehill and the Titans have been a good story in the second half of the season that will come to its conclusion on Saturday night.

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