Titans, Ravens set for another classic playoff game

The Tennessee Titans and Baltimore Ravens will meet for the third time in the playoffs Saturday at LP Field.
Tennessee begins its playoff run on Saturday in Nashville with a divisional-round game against Baltimore, as another chapter is written in the heated rivalry between the two.

The AFC's top-seeded Titans start what they hope will be a journey to the Super Bowl after finishing the regular season 13-3 to clinch home-field advantage in the playoffs. That spot, however, hasn't been favorable to Tennessee in the past. In 2000, after a 13-3 season, it was also the top seed but lost to the Ravens. Baltimore eventually went on to beat the New York Giants in the Super Bowl.

The Titans got some revenge three years later as a wild card team, beating the AFC North division winners in the first round.

Both teams were eager to distance themselves from those matchups.

"There's been some great matchups," Tennessee coach Jeff Fisher said. "It's a great rivalry, but those things that took place in the past are really not going to have any impact on what's going to happen."

Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis, who played in both of the previous playoff meetings, agrees.

"I don't know who's stuck back there. I can't be, definitely this team can't be," he said.

The Titans and Ravens have two of the best defenses in the NFL. Tennessee had the second-ranked scoring defense, allowing 14.6 points per game, while Baltimore had the third-ranked, giving up 15.3. Baltimore was second in total yards allowed (277.1) while Tennessee was tied for fifth.

Those defenses were on display in Week 5 in Baltimore as the Titans squeaked out a 13-10 win after Kerry Collins connected with Alge Crumpler on an 11-yard touchdown pass with 1:56 remaining.

The offenses combined for 495 yards in that game and had 21 penalties for 169 yards.

"We are ready for a physical game," Titans running back Chris Johnson said. "We feel like we are physical. We practice against one of the best defenses in the NFL every week. I feel like that prepares us every week for the game."

Making the Titans' defense possibly even more dangerous is that it could have two key players back. Albert Haynesworth, who missed the final two games of the regular season with a sprained left knee and defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch, who missed the last three games with an injured groin, practiced this week and could be available on Saturday.

The injury news wasn't all good, however. Pro Bowl center Kevin Mawae is still day-to-day with a right elbow injury he suffered on Dec. 21. He did not practice Wednesday and wore a brace over his injured elbow.

"I'm not lost on the fact I'm part of why we're now 13-3," he said. "I think we have something special here. That's the hard part."

After opening the season 10-0 as the last undefeated team in the NFL, Tennessee clinched the No. 1 seed in Week 16 with a win over No. 2 seed Pittsburgh. The Titans went 7-1 at home.

The 35-year-old Collins is appearing in his first playoff game since 2003 with the Giants. The quarterback was expected to back up Vince Young until Young sprained his left knee in the season opener. Collins, who hadn't been a regular starter since 2005, didn't put up eye-popping numbers, but he was effective, throwing 12 touchdowns to seven interceptions while only getting sacked eight times.

"A veteran quarterback that's been around like Kerry has, they've seen everything," Mawae said. "They stay cool under pressure, and guys believe in them. ... He knows what's going on, and he never gets rattled. I think that's one thing in common with great veteran quarterbacks."

Collins doesn't have to be outstanding given Tennessee's running game. The Titans averaged 137.4 yards per game led by Chris Johnson and LenDale White, who combined for 2,001 yards and 24 touchdowns. White rushed for a career-high 15 touchdowns this season.

While the Titans will be the more well-rested team heading into this weekend's matchup, it doesn't bother the Ravens, are looking to continue riding on their recent momentum.

Baltimore finished the regular season winning five of six and opened the playoffs with a 27-9 win over Miami last Sunday. Miami was held to 276 yards of offense and the Ravens picked off quarterback Chad Pennington four times, including two by All-Pro safety Ed Reed.

Reed led the NFL with nine interceptions this season and, in his last seven games, has had two interceptions on five occasions.

The game in Miami was the first postseason contest for rookie quarterback Joe Flacco, who struggled going 9-of-23 for 135 yards and no touchdowns. He did rush for a five-yard score in the fourth quarter, however.

Flacco, like Collins, was expected to be a second-string quarterback to Kyle Boller, who was placed on injured reserve before the season. During the regular season, the rookie completed 60 percent of his passes for 2,971 yards and 14 touchdowns with 12 interceptions.

"We expect him to play the way he's playing," offensive coordinator Cam Cameron said. "The good news for all of us is that he expects to play better than we expect him to play. I think that's probably the important thing."

Like the Titans, the Ravens also have a potent rushing offense, led by Le'Ron McClain and Willis McGahee. Baltimore had the No. 4 rushing offense in the regular season, averaging 148.5 yards. It produced 151 yards against the Dolphins, with McClain rushing for 75 yards and one touchdown.

"We're pounding away at the beginning of the game," McGahee said. "Sooner or later, the defenses have to break, regardless. They're going to give up that big run sooner or later."

Tennessee and Baltimore have split the 18 all-time meetings between the two. The Titans have won three of the last four, but five of the last six games have been decided by less than a touchdown.

"We do all this work, all the offseason work," White said. "You go out and bust your tail ... Some blood shed sometimes, even tears shed. You do all that to get to this point. You've go to turn this into something great. I want to be remembered as somebody great. Nobody remembers second place."

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