The Baltimore Ravens and reigning league MVP, Lamar Jackson, advanced to the Divisional Round of the 2020 postseason with an inspiring 20-13 victory over the Tennessee Titans in a throwback style showdown to kick off the Sunday stint of Super Wildcard Weekend.
It was the third time the two rivals faced off within the last calendar year and this time around it was the Ravens that emerged victoriously.
The final outcome not only marked the team’s first playoff win in six years, and the way in which it unfolded and the ultimate result itself dispelled several narratives that have been hovering over the head of Jackson and the franchise since his ascension into the full-time starter midway through his rookie season.
Heading into this game, the third-year quarterback had failed to lead the Ravens to victory when the team had trailed by double digits at any time during his first 39 career starts, including the playoffs
Media pundits had begun prematurely spinning the false narrative that he could not win the ‘big games’ and lamented over his early exits in his first two trips to the playoffs to begin his career but after the Ravens fell behind 10-0 in the first quarter, he spearheaded an offensive effort that scored 17 unanswered points and outscored the Titans 20-3 in the final three quarters.
“I knew we had the capability of doing that, but there’s always going to be naysayers – no matter what,” Jackson said. “It’s just one game at a time. I appreciate the win, a hard-fought team victory.”
Prior to rallying against the Titans, the Ravens had struggled to come from behind and had begun building a reputation as an offense and team that was incapable of mounting comebacks from deficits that were larger than a single possession.
Jackson and the offense stayed true to the same run-heavy formula that had won them five straight games to close out the regular season and punched their ticket to the playoffs.
The Ravens finished with the top-ranked rushing offense for the second year in a row and rushed for 236 yards against Tennessee with Jackson leading the team with a game-high 136 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries.
He became the second quarterback in NFL postseason history to run for over 100 yards and score a touchdown in a single game.
His electrifying 48-yard scoring jaunt to the end zone in the second quarter not only tied the game but it swung the momentum pendulum in the Ravens’ favor and they never trailed again.
“I felt like our guys all played well, and they were just happy for him,” Head Coach John Harbaugh said. “It’s something that he won’t have to talk about in the future, and that’s a meaningful thing.”
As impressive as his and the offense’s play was, the way the defense was able to limit the Titans’ offense, particularly on the ground, after a rough opening quarter was even more astounding.
In the previous two meetings between the two teams the Ravens were severely gashed by Titans Pro Bowl running back and two-time league rushing champion, Derrick Henry, for 328 combined rushing yards which included a 195-yard outing in a shocking upset during the Divisional round of last year’s playoffs.
Ravens Defensive Coordinator Don Wink Martindale’s unit must have had enough of hearing how Henry was going to run all over them for the third game in a row because they rendered him a non-factor in Tennessee’s offense and with him neutralized, it spelled doom for their play-action passing game that had been the most potent in the league during the regular season.
“I got a ton of respect for Derrick Henry, he’s the hardest running back to tackle,” defensive tackle Derek Wolfe said. “You’ve got to bring it every time you tackle him. He’ll run you over. For us to accomplish that kind of goal against a back like that? That’s a testament to show you what kind of guys we have on this defense, and what kind of guys we have on this team.”
Baltimore only surrendered a single field goal in the final 45 minutes and held the eighth player in league history to run for 2,000 yards to just 40 on 18 carries with a minuscule average of 2.2 yards per carry.
“He’s the king. He’s a beast – 2,000 yards,” Campbell said. “But today, he wasn’t going to run the ball.”
The Ravens had Pro Bowl interior defensive linemen Calais Campbell and Brandon Williams healthy and in the lineup this time around after they missed the Week 11 matchup but it was the play of outside linebackers Pernell McPhee and Matthew Judon that was the key to keeping Henry under control.
The two of them were absolute beasts all afternoon with the way they consistently came crashing off the edge and knifing into the backfield to stop henry for minimal to no gain before he could get going as well as setting the edge to eliminate any and all cutback lanes.
“They executed their plan,” Henry said. “All the credit goes to those guys, you know, of stopping the run. The last two times we had success and they had a plan to make sure we didn’t have success, and that’s what they did. Credit goes to those guys. They did a great job today for them to be able to win the game.”
The interception by ball-hawking cornerback Marcus Peters on Tennessee’s final possession capped off a brilliantly dominant performance by Baltimore’s defense that is just as red-hot and confident as their offense right now.
“I talked to him the drive before, I was like, ‘C’mon, make a big play. Close this game out,”’ Wolfe said. “And he did it. That’s a Hall of Fame-type of player right there.”
“You couldn’t draw up a better defensive back. This guy’s unbelievable. When a big play needs to happen, he makes it. We’ve got a bunch of guys on this defense like that.”
Up next for the Ravens is a road trip to upstate New York where they will face off with No.2 seeded Buffalo Bills their third-year signal-caller, Josh Allen, who is an MVP candidate this year and is at the helm of a team that is as equally hot as them.
The game will take place at Bills Stadium in Orchard Park, NY, and will be broadcasted on NBC at 8:15 ET with a trip to advance to the AFC Conference Championship game on the line.
Final Stats v Titans:
Jackson finished 17-of-24 for 179 passing yards with no touchdowns and an interception. Rookie running back J.K. Dobbins finished second in the team in rushing with 43 yards on nine carries and scored a rushing touchdown for a record seventh straight game including the playoffs.
Second-year wide receiver Marquise ‘Hollywood’ Brown led the team in receiving yards, receptions, and targets. He also added 19 yards on a pair of rushes to bring his scrimmage total to 128 on nine touches.
McPhee and Wolfe tied for the team lead in total tackles with six apiece. Wolfe also notched the defense’s only sack of the day.
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