Story by Jim Wyatt – TitansOnline.com
In the “Charm City,” the Titans’ plan worked like a charm.
And they moved one step closer to playing for the crown jewel.
A big underdog playing on the road against the No.1 seeded Ravens, the Titans took the fight to the Ravens here on Saturday night and walked out of M&T Bank Stadium with a swagger, and a 28-12 win.
With the victory, the Titans advanced into the AFC Championship Game for the first time since the 2002 season. They’ll face the winner of Sunday’s Kansas City-Houston game on the road next Sunday for the chance to play for the Vince Lombardy Trophy.
Saturday night’s victory served as some payback for previous playoff losses to the Ravens. At the end of the 2000 and 2008 seasons, the top-seeded Titans were knocked out of the playoffs by the Ravens.
But in this year’s postseason, the Ravens are nevermore. Their season ends after a 14-2 season when they had an NFL-high 12 players voted to the Pro Bowl. They’d won 12 straight games before Saturday’s loss to the Titans.
The Titans took control of this one early.
Quarterback Ryan Tannehill threw two touchdown passes, and he also ran for one, in a game the Titans led 14-0 early.
Running back Derrick Henry ran for 190 yards on 30 carries – and he threw a touchdown pass.
Henry became the first player in NFL history to post three straight 180-yard games.
During their fast start, the Titans made some big plays early on offense, and defense. And it continued all night.
First, safety Kevin Byard intercepted Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson on a tipped pass that ended up in Byard’s hands. After a 31-yard return, and with penalty yards added to it, the Titans took over at the Baltimore 35.
A quick drive had the Titans in position for an early score, but facing a third-and goal from the Baltimore 12, things didn’t look so good. But that’s when Titans tight end Jonnu Smith went up and made a remarkable juggling catch in the corner of the end zone to give the Titans a 7-0 lead. Smith’s touchdown capped off an eight-play, 35-yard drive orchestrated by Tannehill.
The Titans led 7-0 at the end of the first quarter. It was a good sign early, considering the Ravens outscored their opponents 128-31 in the first quarter during the regular season.
The Titans delivered another one-two punch at the start of the second quarter. First came a defensive stop on 4th and 1, when the defense stopped Jackson short of the yard to gain. Rookie David Long got Jackson by the ankles, and the quarterback was then swarmed by Titans defenders.
On the ensuing play, Tannehill connected with Kalif Raymond on a 45-yard touchdown pass, and it was suddenly 14-0. The play caused an eruption on the Tennessee sideline, and had Ravens fans at M&T Bank Stadium quiet, and shocked.
The Ravens got on the scoreboard with 5:52 remaining in the first half on a 49-yard field by Justin Tucker, who added a 22-yard field goal on the final play of half to make it 14-6 at intermission.
A big swing happened midway through the third quarter, once again with both sides of the ball stepping up.
With the Ravens with a 4th and 1 at the Tennessee 18-yard line, the Titans stuffed them. Linebacker Harold Landry was credited with the stop on a play when the Titans swarmed Jackson.
The Titans then produced a touchdown in an improbable way – a three-yard jump pass from running back Derrick Henry to receiver Corey Davis. Henry took the snap on the play, and found Davis breaking free in the back of the end zone. The touchdown was set up by a 66-yard run by Henry, and the score capped a six-play, 81-yard drive.
Then came another one-two punch, with the defense setting the table for the offense. Jurrell Casey sacked Jackson, and he stripped the ball from his grasp in the process. Defensive lineman Jeffery Simmons jumped on the loose ball, and the Titans were in business.
Before long, they were back in the end zone on a one-yard touchdown run by Tannehill, which made it 28-6 with 4:16 left in the third quarter.
The Ravens cut the lead to 28-12 on a 15-yard touchdown pass from Jackson to tight end Hayden Hurst with 11:04 left in the game.
But the Titans refused to be denied, as the put the game away down the stretch. Casey had two sacks in the game, and the Titans made tough on Jackson, the favorite to win the NFL’s MVP trophy, all night.