Old narratives fade as Ravens beat Titans 20-13 in Wild Card game originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington
Lamar Jackson wanted no part of the postgame ceremonies.
As soon as Sunday’s 20-13 win over the Titans was complete, Jackson signaled for his teammates to follow him up the tunnel and get off Nissan Stadium’s field as quickly as possible. His teammates on defense had already danced and stomped on the logo at midfield a few moments prior, but enough was enough. The Ravens had proven what they needed to.
With their seven point win in the Wild Card Round, the Ravens won their first game that they trailed by at least 10 points since Sept. 18, 2016. They got past the team that plagued them the last two seasons. And perhaps most notably, Jackson won his first playoff game as a starter in the NFL.
Whether the narratives about Jackson or the Ravens held any merit before Sunday were up for debate in the first place. Now, they’ve faded into the past.
“I’m happy for myself, but I’m almost more happy for Lamar, you know?” cornerback Marlon Humphrey said. “It sucks to be in his position at times that when you lose, it’s all his fault. It’s nobody else’s fault. It wasn’t the defense’s fault, it’s always Lamar’s fault. When you win, it’s usually him as well. I know it’s a team game, but it seems like whenever it’s a loss, it’s always just his fault. So, it was great in the locker room.”
Just a few hours earlier, though, the Ravens’ playoff narratives were at the forefront of every conversation — especially when they fell behind 10-0 after the game’s first five possessions, one of which ended with a Jackson interception on a poorly thrown deep ball.
The game was in an unstable state for the Ravens on the ensuing drive when they faced a third down and Jackson rolled out to his right, frantically chased by Titans defenders. He fired a completion to tight end Mark Andrews to keep the offense on the field and most importantly, keep the Titans’ offense off it. The Ravens scored three points on that drive, their first points of the day.
Jackson’s electrifying 48-yard touchdown run in the second quarter was perhaps the highlight of Wild Card Weekend around the NFL, as he blew by seemingly the entire Titans defense for a touchdown. Coach John Harbaugh called the run the best he’s ever seen from a quarterback.
Then with the game on the brink, the Jackson ran for 33 yards to put the Titans away for good.
Fair or otherwise, the perception surrounding the Ravens nationally was that Jackson wasn’t a playoff performer or one that could get the job done when it counted most. Sunday, he was their best offensive player.
“It feels good,” Jackson said. “I knew we had the capability of doing that. But it’s always going to be naysayers, no matter what. So, it’s just one game at a time. I appreciate the win. (It was a) hard fought team victory."
As Jackson’s legs slowly pushed the Ravens into the lead, their defense had settled in and killed a narrative of their own: that Titans running back Derrick Henry was unstoppable.
Henry rushed for just 40 yards on 18 carries (a 2.2 per carry average) on a day that the Ravens’ defense aimed to keep him at fewer than 90 yards. He ran for zero first downs on the day and his longest run was for eight yards. The last time he was held for less than 40 yards was on Oct. 13, 2019, when he ran for 28 yards on 15 carries.
He rushed for more than 40 yards in every single game this season, and totaled triple digit yardage in 10 of the Titans’ 16 regular season games. The Ravens never let him get started, both on the statsheet or on his actual carries.
“The defensive effort, it was disciplined,” Harbaugh said. “It was eyes on your luggage. It was finishing. It was running to the ball. It was tackling. Up front, our defensive line did a very good job against their very good offensive line. So, we had them stopped a lot of times before (Henry) got started.”
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) January 10, 2021
The biggest reason for the Ravens' win was their defensive effort, as a few big plays by Henry and the Titans’ offense with a 10-3 lead could’ve put the Ravens in a hole they might not have been able to come back from. Instead, they kept the pressure on Henry and the offensive line as Jackson and the offense slowly took the game over.
“You don’t look at the scoreboard,” defensive lineman Derek Wolfe said. “When it comes to the playoffs, you do not look at the scoreboard until it’s the end, as a player, because you can’t let up. You’ve got to just keep pounding, keep going, and eventually, it’ll work out for you.”
The defense helped put to bed the narrative that the Ravens were ill-equipped to play from behind as not only did the offense score 20 of the game’s final 23 points, the defense allowed just 83 yards from a floundering Titans offense in the final three quarters of play.
It didn’t hurt that the Ravens’ physical defense caused so much frustration to a team that had caused them so much pain over the last year either.
A year ago Monday, the Ravens lost 28-12 at home in the AFC Divisional Round of the playoffs, which ended a 14-2 regular season in shocking fashion. Earlier this season, the Titans mounted a late comeback and won 30-24 in overtime which dropped the Ravens to 6-4. Both games happened in Baltimore.
In those losses, the Ravens were upset about perceived disrespect from the Titans, who made it a point to walk out to the logo at midfield at M&T Bank Stadium as a team. Which is why Jackson, once the game was over, made no bones about heading off the field.
“It wasn’t no reason for us to shake hands and stuff like that,” Jackson said. “We’ll be the bigger guy, so we just walked off the field. I feel like we were being the bigger guys.”
With an unusual amount of pressure for a No. 5 seed in the playoffs, the Ravens responded with flying colors and dismantled most of the narratives that plagued them all season long. Jackson and the Ravens won a game they fell behind in. They beat the Titans and Derrick Henry. Simply, they won a playoff game — something few members of the team were around for on Jan. 3, 2015, the last playoff victory for the Ravens.
It was easy, almost cliche, this week for the Ravens to acknowledge there was added motivation in facing the Titans, but add nothing to it. Sunday proved there was certainly a bit more fire under the surface than they let on.
As it turned out, the Ravens, in a general sense, proved to the league they had a bit more to show, too.
“I’m going to tell you, right now, that’s the No. 1 best win,” Harbaugh, who has won a Super Bowl, said. “In perspective, it’s going to be a Top 5 for sure. But right now, for me, this is the best win ever. And not just because of what was at stake, but because of the guys and what it meant to our team and to our guys — what it meant to all of our guys. This may be the best win I’ve ever been associated with.”