What appeared to be an ugly victory was merely tradition.
What many perceived to be an upset was just another inexplicable repeat.Relying on new faces and old tricks, the Ravens continued their reign over the Tennessee Titans with a 13-12 victory before 69,365 at Ravens Stadium yesterday.
The Ravens (5-6) stymied the Titans (6-5) for the fifth straight time, soaring on the familiar wings of special teams and defense.
The cast may have changed for the Ravens, but the formula remains the same, as rookie Ed Reed blocked a punt for the game's only touchdown and an undermanned defense delivered four turnovers and barricaded the end zone to salvage an offense in a tailspin.
"It seems like we were overmatched in personnel, but there's an extra fire when we play the Titans," Ravens linebacker Peter Boulware said. "We always seem to look like the '85 Bears out there against them."
Upending one of the NFL's hottest teams had little to do with reason.
The Ravens were outgained, 402-199, and were dominated in time of possession (34:09 to 25:51). They jumped to a 10-0 lead 10 1/2 minutes into the first quarter despite producing 8 yards of total offense.
With the bitter rivals not scheduled to meet for another three years, the Ravens preferred to relish getting the last word rather than rationalize how they ended Tennessee's five-game winning streak.
"I like beating Tennessee," Ravens offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden said. "We've beaten them for a long time, and it always hurts their feelings. They're a good team, but for some reason we've had their number lately."
The emotional turning point surfaced in the first quarter, when the Ravens capitalized on a Titans mistake and sidestepped a critical one of their own.
Just 61 seconds into the game, Reed beat Aric Morris on an inside move off the left edge and blocked Craig Hentrich's punt. Reed picked it up and raced 11 yards into the end zone, hoisting the ball in the air a few steps before reaching the goal line.
Reed, who was stripped on a potential touchdown return in his last home game, took extra precautions before celebrating his first career touchdown this time.
"I looked back before I put it up there," Reed said.
Showing resiliency, the Titans marched to the Ravens' 4-yard line, but rookie linebacker Bart Scott made a leaping interception in the end zone in the first of four red-zone stands.
The Ravens, though, nearly gave a touchdown back two plays later.
Ravens quarterback Jeff Blake threw an interception returned 28 yards by Tennessee cornerback Andre Dyson, which should have tied the game. But a roughing-the-passer penalty against the Titans' Keith Bulluck negated the score.
"I started to get the feeling at that point that it was going to be our day," Blake said.
While it would be the Ravens' day, it was another effort to forget by the offense.
Ranked second-to-last in the league entering this game, the Ravens' offense recorded its second straight game under 200 yards of total offense and once again struggled on third downs, converting two of 13 tries (15 percent). Their wide receivers' production (two catches) could be measured in feet as easily as yards.
Blake, who posted an atrocious quarterback rating of 41.8, finished 11 of 24 passing for 109 yards and an interception. In the final three quarters, he completed six throws for 77 yards.
At his post-game news conference, coach Brian Billick began by warning reporters not to ask him about the offense.
"You know me, pretty open and pretty direct, but don't be the dumb son of a bitch to ask me about execution [on offense] right now," Billick said.
To tack on two field goals, the Ravens' offense needed help.
Boulware recovered McNair's fumbled snap at the Titans' 21 that set up Matt Stover's 26-yard field goal, increasing the first-quarter lead to 10-0.
After Tennessee closed to 10-6 on a couple of field goals, the defense stepped up again late in the third quarter, when rookie safety Chad Williams made a one-handed interception off a deflection. The Ravens moved 31 yards on six plays and Stover hit a line-drive 43-yarder into the swirling wind to put the Ravens ahead 13-6 with 2:25 left in the third quarter.
"It was pretty ugly," Stover said. "You had to hit it strong. When I did, I came a little too quick and hit it low. I thought I pulled it left. But the good Lord blessed me on that one."
The Ravens started showing life offensively in the fourth quarter, when they began to run the ball exclusively with Jamal Lewis, who had 65 of his 95 yards in the final period. But with a play-action pass play called, Blake had thought he had audible-ized to a run and handed the ball off to a surprised Lewis, which led to a fumble.
The Titans converted that turnover to inch within 13-12 with 4 1/2 minutes left in the game. They had to settle for a 21-yard field goal after McNair overthrew an open Derrick Mason in the end zone.
But without two injured starters - linebacker Ray Lewis and cornerback Chris McAlister - the Ravens' defense still managed to stop the Titans on their final drive. After crawling to the Tennessee 33-yard line, McNair had a pass batted down by cornerback Gary Baxter and saw his final throw dropped by Frank Wycheck.
"For our guys to respond was as impressive defensively as anything we've done since I've been here," Billick said.
Now, with the Cincinnati Bengals on the horizon, the Ravens feel like a win over an old foe has given them new hope in their last-ditch run to the playoffs.
"It's a great big win for us," Blake said. "Think about it: We have five wins under our belt now, and we have Cincinnati next week. Hopefully, we can come out of there and be .500 and we'll see what happens with four games left."