BALTIMORE – 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 AFC's No.1 seed, 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.
"No one gave this team a chance," safety Kenny Vaccaro said. "It was all Ravens, Ravens, Ravens. But we believed in one another. We believed in ourselves, as a team. It feels great to take care of business. Now we get to keep playing."
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 Lombardi Trophy.
"My emotions are crazy right now, it is unbelievable," defensive lineman Jurrell Casey said. "I've waited a long time for this. Now we are headed to the AFC Championship Game and we have to take that mindset that no one can stop us now."
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 in which 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 195 yards on 30 carries – and he also threw a touchdown pass.
Henry became the first player in NFL history to post three straight 180-yard rushing games.
"I just focused on doing my job, and trying to finish runs," Henry said. "This team believes in each other, no matter what is thrown at us. We just have to keep pushing, keep finishing."
During their fast start, the Titans made some big plays early on offense, and defense. And it continued all night.
"The players came in here in a hostile environment, and did what we talked about," Titans coach Mike Vrabel said. "We knew we were going to get on a plane a few weeks ago and as long as we kept winning, we were going to keep getting on that plane. We are going to do the same thing this week. We are going to continue to improve, not let complacency set in, and not be excited about winning (this game). We are going to play in the AFC Championship Game, but we have to continue to improve. The teams that do that, they keep playing. The team's that don't, they make offseason plans."
The Titans started fast.
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.
"I had to go get it," Smith said. "I saw the ball and I had to go get it, and I was able to get a cheek in."
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.
"Ryan threw a great ball," Raymond said. "It's a play we work on all the time in practice. It was out there, and I had to run under it. I'm glad I did."
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 the 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 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.
"A pretty good pass from D-Hen, huh?," Davis said. "All I had to do was catch it."
Then came another one-two punch, with the defense setting the table for the offense. 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 it tough on Jackson, the favorite to win the NFL's MVP trophy, all night.
"It was fun," Tannehill said. "After a big win like this in the playoffs, everyone dancing, having a good time, it's something I'll always remember. It was a special moment."
The Titans beat the defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots to advance to last night's AFC Divisional Round. Now, the top-seeded Ravens are done.
But the work for the Titans isn't over.
"We can celebrate tonight, but it's all about winning the Super Bowl," Byard said. "None of this is going to mean anything unless we go and win the Super Bowl. That is our mentality now, to go and win the Super Bowl."
The Tennessee Titans take on the Baltimore Ravens in an AFC Divisional playoff game at M&T Bank Stadium. (Photos: Donald Page)