Lamar Jackson wanted desperately to exorcise the demons infused into his career by the Tennessee Titans, and he did just that with a 20-13 victory at Nissan Stadium on NFL Super Wild-Card Weekend. Things didn’t start off the way he planned though, and he had to battle back to get the job done. While the Baltimore Ravens did a magnificent job containing all-world running back Derrick Henry in the first half and ultimately for the remainder of the game, they got off to a rocky beginning in attempting to stop Ryan Tannehill.
The latter initially showed throughout the first quarter he had the ability to carry the Titans offense — especially with the help of A.J. Brown. The Pro Bowl wideout hauled in the first touchdown of the game with star cornerback Marlon Humphrey attempting to stop him — on a play Ravens fans will remember as a possible offensive pass interference that went uncalled in the end zone.
Of course, that simply added fuel to an already raging fire that exists between these two teams, but it was the Titans imposing their will early on, despite Henry’s struggles. Jackson threw an arid interception to defensive back Malcolm Butler that was as poor of a pass as you’ll see, leading to a Tennessee field goal, before making two keyhole passes to put the Ravens in striking distance. Unfortunately for him, linebacker Brooks Reed ended the drive with a five-yard sack that forced Baltimore to settle for a field goal on what was its best offensive drive of the game to that point.
And then it happened: Jackson turns on the burners late in the second quarter to blow past the Titans for a 48-yard touchdown to tie the game after going down 10-0, and reaching a blistering top speed of 20.52 mph in the process, per Next Gen Stats.
That was a hint at things to come from Jackson, who extended drives in the second half with his legs as well as his arm, with the help of a 100-yard game from wideout Marquise “Hollywood” Brown. The Ravens get their revenge and shut down the league’s best rusher in the process, giving the Titans a taste of their own medicine this time around — in a game that had them listed as favorites but felt as if they were the underdogs initially.
The reigning league MVP ran for 136 rushing yards and lives to fight another day, after two-time All-Pro cornerback Marcus Peters secured the game-sealing interception on Tannehill with less than two minutes left to play, moving to the AFC divisional game for the first time in his young career.
Why the Ravens won
Defense wins championships and offense sells tickets.
There could not be a more accurate way to describe how Baltimore took this victory, because for as much as Jackson made the game uber-entertaining with his ability to torch the Titans on the ground while — at times — also delivering key passes to Brown and others, it was his defense that made it all matter. Shutting down Henry was mission No. 1 for the Ravens, and probably also mission No. 2 onward, after having been run over for nearly 200 yards in their last playoff meeting. With Henry basically shut down the entire game, to the tune of just 40 rushing yards on 18 attempts, the onus was on Tannehill to get the job done; and he simply couldn’t when it mattered most. The Ravens sacked Tannehill once and held him to only 165 passing yards and a passer rating of 83.0, with his sole touchdown on the day occurring in the first quarter.
Additionally impressive was how the Ravens forced the Titans into eight failed third-down conversions on the day, only 209 net yards of offense and only 26 minutes and 22 seconds of field time. So, again, while it was Jackson who came alive when he needed, and while that’ll justifiably be the primary headline this week and beyond, it was the Baltimore defense who ultimately made magic happen.
Why the Titans lost
With Henry shut down, so was the Tennessee offense.
That wasn’t the case initially, when Tannehill was moving the ball effectively in the first quarter, but adjustments were made by the Ravens and that was basically the end of the Titans offense for the remaining three sessions. A bullied Tannehill began to look out of sorts and Henry was seen on the sideline visibly frustrated at his inability to take over the game — or to at least come even remotely close to doing so. His longest run of the day was for just eight yards, and he never once touched the end zone. To make matters worse, the team’s second-leading rusher was Tannehill with only six yards, making them one-dimensional despite having a 10-0 lead early in the contest. There was also a very real inability by the Titans defense to keep Jackson from extending plays once he toasted them with the aforementioned 48-yard touchdown run, seemingly playing a bit more honest because of it and paying for it on more than one occasion.
It looked like the Titans would run away with this game in the first quarter and eliminate the Ravens from the playoffs for a second year in a row, but they ran out of gas and their bulldozer never located his keys. From there, it was all they could do to make sure Jackson didn’t go on to hang 40 points on them on their own field, although they couldn’t stop the Ravens from disrespecting their midfield logo after Peters’ interception — one final gut punch in a rivalry that isn’t going away anytime soon.
With the ball in Tannehill’s hands and the Titans attempting to force overtime, Peters closed the coffin and dropped it in a grave.
Play of the Game
It’s time to start calling Jackson the Gingerbread Man because, well, catch him if you can.
Cross another off the list
“Add road playoff win to the list of things Lamar Jackson haters can no longer hold over him as a two-year starter.” – Jordan Schultz of ESPN
The next opponent for the Ravens will be known shortly, and is based largely upon what happens when the Pittsburgh Steelers take on the Cleveland Browns. If the Steelers win, the Ravens will face the defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs by virtue of being the lowest seed remaining. If the Browns win, however, the Ravens will face off against the Buffalo Bills in the AFC divisional round.
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