Marcus Peters came down with the interception that would essentially close out Baltimore’s 20-13 AFC wild-card victory over Tennessee. There was no doubt what he was going to do next.
Peters ran directly to the the center of Nissan Stadium, spun the ball in celebration and began jumping and stomping on the Titans’ logo. He did so while staring, and shouting, directly at the Tennessee sideline. Behind him were as many as 20 teammates, including guys who weren’t on the field for the play.
The game, at least once Lamar Jackson rushed for another clock-killing first down, was over.
The Ravens, however, were already back.
“Love my Ravens,” the franchise’s all time great, Ed Reed, tweeted, “but win with class.”
Fair enough. Who is to argue with Ed Reed? But the emotion and circumstances at the end of this one make outbursts understandable.
This was Baltimore’s first playoff victory since 2014, the fading days of the dynasty Reed, Ray Lewis and others built and every current Raven must try to equal.
It was accomplished via classic Ravens blunt-force trauma, a fierce, ferocious effort that shut down Derrick Henry, who had just 40 yards on 18 carries.
And it avenged not just two consecutive losses to the Titans, including a crushing defeat in last year’s playoffs, but a regular season one where Tennessee did its own number on the Ravens’ logo.
“This was an emotional football game,” defensive end Derek Wolfe said. “Sometimes you just act out of emotion. I thought it was time to do it. So we did it.”
The debate about appropriateness can go on. What can’t is the rumble of these Ravens. Those Reed/Lewis days hang over everything in Baltimore, both a positive motivating force and a challenging level of expectations.
How do you be better than some of the best teams ever? How do you be tougher than some of the toughest teams ever?
Besides, it’s not like those old Ravens didn’t crow and bark when up against Pittsburgh or New England. Terrell Suggs sure wasn’t afraid to, well, express himself.
Sunday was an old-school game in a new-age NFL. This was no playground 7-on-7 fest. This was won and lost in the trenches, with each violent collision and forced punt.
The Titans averaged 30.7 points a game this season and scored 13. They averaged 396.4 yards of offense a game and earned just 209 on Sunday. They averaged 23.8 first downs and recorded just 12. This was a suffocation, a wrecking ball through the heart of the Tennessee line.
Ryan Tannehill had just 165 yards passing. Henry, fresh off a 2,027-yard season where he averaged 5.5 yards per carry, had just 2.2 per attempt against Baltimore. He couldn’t get anywhere and was seen in frustration on the bench.
“We’re the Ravens, we’re going to play the way we play,” Wolfe said. “We play hard. We strained through blocks. We put our body on the line every snap.”
The game plan on Henry was as basic as it gets.
“Physical, physical, physical,” Wolfe said. “Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.”
“That kind of physicality, he didn’t get great momentum coming down hill,” coach John Harbuagh said of his swarming defense on the great running back. “And then we were able to hit him with multiple helmets … I thought our tackling was strong. And I thought we were strong on the edges.”
In the immediate aftermath of the game, Harbaugh was declaring it the best victory of his career, which was saying something. He later tempered it to maybe top five, considering there is a Super Bowl triumph, a couple playoff victories in Foxborough and untold battles against Pittsburgh.
Still, the man knows big-time victories. He isn’t usually prone to exaggeration or even comparison.
“It was very meaningful,” Harbaugh said. “It was discipline. It was eyes on your luggage. It was finishing.”
It was the Ravens. Or at least how the Ravens want to be, even if it’s so difficult to accomplish it – not just winning but winning this way.
And while no one will confuse Lamar Jackson as some kind of brute, there is a toughness in his slalom-like runs through the secondary, both physical and mental.
He’s willing to take hits, either on his 16 rushing attempts or when getting sacked in the pocket. Maybe more notably, he’s willing to take on the responsibility of stardom. When Tennessee jumped to a 10-point lead, Jackson changed the game with an audacious 48-yard touchdown run through what seemed like half the Titans’ roster.
Jackson was named the league’s MVP last year only to play below his standards in that playoff loss to Tennessee. At just 24 years old he was already hearing chatter about whether his style of play could really work in the postseason.
“I don't really care what the people say,” Jackson said.
Perhaps, but he played like he did, he led like he did, he won like he did – ushering his team off the field quickly afterward because he didn’t see the need to shake a lot of Tennessee hands after all the bad blood.
He got the game ball afterward, but didn’t want anyone to think it was anything other than a team victory.
“It was about us winning the game,” Jackson said. “It wasn’t about me or Derrick Henry. It was about the Ravens and the Titans.”
Mostly it was about the Ravens, the return of these Ravens, this hard-nose, hard-tackling, take-no-stuff team that once struck fear in the NFL.
They aren’t there yet, but Sunday was like a time warp. And if some logo-stomping revenge had to happen, well, apologies to Ed Reed, but that’s just what had to happen.
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