This year does have similarities to the 2000 season with the way Baltimore kind of flew under the radar, then worked its way into playoff contention and is playing well now in the postseason. The situation is lined up just like it was back then, but obviously, the Titans are hoping for a different outcome this time. Not to say the 2000 versions of the Titans and Ravens are just like the 2008 teams, but you can see some similarities, including the mental toughness. There are a few players that remain from both teams, including Ray Lewis for the Ravens and Keith Bulluck for the Titans. While both players can draw from their experiences of eight years ago, there are so many different players now that it's not nearly as relevant as it was for us during that first playoff rematch in January of 2004. However, I'm sure Ray Lewis will still tell his guys that they weren't supposed to win that 2001 playoff game, but found a way to do so by making big plays on defense and special teams.
On the other side, Keith Bulluck can tell his teammates what a great opportunity it is to have home-field advantage throughout the playoffs and to capitalize on an opportunity that not everyone will experience again. He'll tell them to prepare the right way and to not leave any stone unturned, understanding that everyone from top to bottom has to be at their best because there is so much on the line. As a team, each player works so hard to get to this point, so you have to do everything you can to take advantage of this opportunity.
I don't think there's real hatred or animosity towards the Ravens, even though some people might perceive it that way. It's such a competitive rivalry because it's almost like looking in the mirror as far as the philosophies go. They are two teams that take the same approach to football the way it's supposed to be played – a smash you in the mouth mentality with guys that give you a little stare to let you know what just happened to you. When those two worlds collide, there's kind of a healthy animosity on both sides. You want to be that victorious guy standing on the top of the hill, especially with the electric personalities of guys like Ray Lewis and Eddie George back in the day. Now you have Keith Bulluck and some of these younger players leading the charge. I think they understand what's been built here with the Titans, the deep tradition and pride that goes into these types of games, especially against the Ravens.
It is a little different not having Brian Billick around this time. He obviously became one of the main faces of our long-standing rivalry. Billick was the master of the soundbite and psychological warfare. In his high and mighty press conferences, he would slip in a little jab here and there that might go noticed or unnoticed. It just depended on how you took it. That will be missed because it was pure entertainment. But if you were on the other end of it, his chatter kind of got under your skin. Billick's replacement, John Harbaugh is a no nonsense type of guy and his personality has rubbed off on the Ravens. They're very business-like and very good. It's going to be an absolute battle for three and a half hours on Saturday.
I think the key to the game is efficiency. This game is about relying on your strengths, not about tricking anybody. It's about utilizing your best players and following the money. That's been a term I've gotten used to. You go to your stars. Your playmakers have to play big in these games and others have to follow along. This game is about the offensive line, running the football, taking it to Baltimore's defense and not putting yourself in horrific third-and-long situations because that's where they really earn their money. This is a game where you're really going to have to control some things offensively and dictate what you want to do. I think you can toss the earlier game between these two teams out the window. The Ravens are multidimensional now. Joe Flacco has made great strides and now they can attack through the air and run it with Willis McGahee and LeRon McClain. Offensively, you can't expect them to play the way they did in Week 5. I think you have to erase the tape because Todd Heap was injured and wasn't the same, but now he's involved in their offense. Derrick Mason has been playing at a high level and Mark Clayton is a home run threat on the other side. Flacco is not going to blow you away with Peyton Manning type of stats, but he is willing and able to make all of the throws.
Coach Fisher has done a great job of preaching his one game at a time philosophy throughout the season. That's going to pay huge dividends for the Titans this weekend as they get set to play their biggest game in recent years. It's all about the focus and drive that it's going to take to come out a winner. It's all about this week against a tough opponent that you're pretty familiar with and nothing else.
Titans fans can definitely do their part. Having home-field advantage for this game is huge because when the Ravens are on offense and they have to make a check or call at the line of scrimmage, someone may not hear it or may think they heard something else. There's a hesitation or you're a step late and the penalty flag is thrown. That's where the importance comes in. I'm not expecting anything less than the best from our fans on Saturday. It's an atmosphere that everyone is geared up for and it doesn't go unnoticed by the players. When LP Field gets rocking, it definitely affects the game on the field.