The offense that had rescued the Titans so many times in the regular season floundered in the opening round of the Wild Card Playoffs Sunday as Tennessee fell to the Baltimore Ravens, 20-13.
Tennessee jumped out to a quick 10-0 lead, but after that a malaise hung over the offense, as it generated just three more points and put up just 209 total yards. The visiting Ravens stifled Derrick Henry, holding the NFL's back-to-back rushing champion and a 2,000-yard rusher to just 40 yards on their way to advancing to the Divisional Playoffs.
“We just weren't good enough as a team,” Titans coach Mike Vrabel said. “That's how it goes sometimes. You're going to need all three phases to execute. Give them credit. They're a good football team. They won the game. We knew they were good. Nobody let anybody down.”
The win gave Lamar Jackson his first postseason victory in three tries and continued the odd postseason trend of the visiting team having won every playoff matchup between the Titans and Ravens.
It also gave Baltimore a measure of revenge for the Titans' upset win at M&T Bank Stadium a year ago.
The Titans, who finish the season 11-6, looked good early on, taking a 7-0 lead when Ryan Tannehill led them downfield and hit A.J. Brown for a 10-yard touchdown pass on their second offensive series.
Tennessee turned a Jackson interception by Malcolm Butler into a Stephen Gostkowski 45-yard field goal, and the Titans built a 10-0 edge.
Baltimore began its comeback when Tucker converted a 33-yard field goal that trimmed the lead to 10-3, and then tied the game when Jackson broke free from the pass rush and raced 48 yards for the tying touchdown.
Jackson shrugged off a sluggish start, and wound up doing to the Titans what he had largely been unable to do in two previous meetings – dictate the tempo of the game with his combination of running and passing. Jackson had 136 yards on the ground on 16 rushes and passed for 179 yards on 17 of 24 passes.
The Ravens took their first lead of the day when J.K. Dobbins capped a 77-yard drive on the first series of the second half, giving Baltimore a 17-10 lead.
'Tennessee had its opportunities, but a drive late in the third quarter fizzled, forcing the Titans to settle for Gostkowski's 25-yard field goal on the first play of the final period to make it 17-13.
Tennessee also mounted a drive following Justin Tucker's missed 52-yard field goal, but on fourth-and-2 at the Baltimore 40, Coach Mike Vrabel elected to punt the football away. The ensuing punt was downed at the 15, but the Ravens cashed it in for a 51-yard field goal from Tucker to go up seven points with 4:19 to play.
“I just decided to punt. I thought we were playing well defensively,” Vrabel said. I thought we would get a punt inside the 10 and be able to play the field position game. Had some time there that I felt like, you know, we could, and we held them to a field goal. It's just we were playing against a kicker there that kicks them from the 40. Becomes a field position battle, and I thought that we'd get a stop and hit them inside the ten. The way we were playing defensively, I was really proud of those guys. Obviously, Lamar had a fantastic day but I thought we were dialed in. I enjoyed watching those guys play defense.”
On the Titans' final series, Tannehill's pass for Kalif Raymond was intercepted by Marcus Peters when Raymond fell down out of his break.
“Kalif inside released on the seam and he had Peters behind him. Was bodying up Kalif with Peters behind him like this, and from my angle it will appeared he got hit. He fell down and the ball went right to Peters. I felt really confident when I threw that pass that it was in a good spot with Kalif being between the ball and the defender, I felt really confident when I let it go,” Tannehill said. “Thought it was good when it was in the air and all of a sudden Kalif got hit and dropped. You know, from my angle it definitely looked like it could have been a flag there and probably should have been, but it wasn't thrown, so here we are.”
It allowed Baltimore to exhaust the Titans timeouts and run out the clock, handing Jackson his first playoff win and sending the Ravens into the Divisional Playoffs.
For the Titans, the season ended two rounds less than last year when the team was 9-7, but scored road playoff victories at New England at Baltimore.
“They came out and the momentum switched. I don’t even know if they were doing something so special. We kind of shot our own selves in the foot not converting and doing what we were supposed to do. They are a really a good team, they have a really good defense. In the second half, they made plays,” said Brown, who had six catches for 83 yards and a touchdown, which was about all the offense the Titans could muster Sunday.