Monday October 6th, 2008

Five things we learned from Tennessee's un-artistic 13-10 Week 5 defeat of Baltimore on Sunday ...

1. Tennessee's defense is a spunky bunch, and no Titan is spunkier than cornerback Cortland Finnegan. If this game doesn't generate some forthcoming fines out of the league office this week, I'll be one stunned NFL writer. The Titans and Ravens played a very chippy, very mouthy, very physical 60-minute game here Sunday, and 5-foot-10, 188-pound Finnegan was smack dab in the middle of most of the mayhem.

And don't make the mistake of thinking Finnegan was fighting only with the Ravens, because some of the time he was mixing it up with his own teammates. Both linebacker Keith Bulluck and defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth took turns getting in Finnegan's face early in the third quarter, and Bulluck even gave him a strong, two-handed shove at one particularly tempestuous moment. Suffice to say that when Haynesworth is sent over to play the peacemaker, you know things are out of control.

Finnegan and Ravens receiver Derrick Mason were going at it for most of the day, but on Baltimore's first third-quarter possession -- their lone touchdown drive of the game -- things really boiled over. Finnegan and Mason were called for offsetting personal foul calls on one play early in the drive -- with Finnegan losing his helmet and Mason nearly matching him -- and for good measure, Finnegan tacked on a 11-yard unnecessary roughness call four plays later.

"We just got frustrated,'' Haynesworth said. "(Mason) is like that little Chihuahua that's always barking. I guess you had two little Chihuahuas barking with Cortland (barking). You know, they're biting at each other. We know that's how (Mason) plays, and Cortland plays like that, so we knew it was going to be a battle.''

All told, the game was a flag-fest of rare proportions. The Titans were called for 10 penalties for 78 yards, and the Ravens drew 11 flags for 91 yards -- none bigger than the questionable 15-yard roughing-the-passer call that went against Baltimore linebacker Terrell Suggs with 5:50 remaining, keeping Tennessee's game-winning touchdown drive alive on an incomplete 3rd-and-10 pass.

"It was all out of control,'' Titans safety Chris Hope said. "At one point, I didn't know who I was fighting. I didn't know who I was holding back.''

Said Finnegan: "This game was a knock down, drag out. You've got to bring two chin straps and two mouthpieces to a game like this. It was a war.''

Bulluck, perhaps the Titans' preeminent defensive leader, said the on-field showdown that happened between him and Finnegan on the field has already been for forgotten.

"I was just telling him to keep his composure,'' said Bulluck, failing to mention that he obviously lost his when he emphatically shoved Finnegan. "I told him to chill out and take a breath. I call him 'Fido,' because he's a fighter. He's an intense guy, and I'm an intense guy. But let's clear the air: On this defense, we're brothers. And brothers sometimes fight. But then it's forgotten.''

2. Terrell Suggs is going to be giving the NFL some money this week. Even in the best of times, the Ravens linebacker-defensive end is going to draw some heat for speaking his mind. But in the case of his game-turning roughing-the-passer penalty with 5:50 remaining, Suggs was in no mood to hold his tongue whatsoever. And he will pay for it, because NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has fined everyone from Jerry Jones to Sean Payton lately for criticizing officials.

"If anybody can go back and show me something I did illegal, then I would be happy to oblige and say, 'I messed up and I got what I deserved -- a personal foul,''' Suggs said, just getting warmed up. "But when you are nowhere near his head, we hit arms, (just) arms. It just goes to show the referee has too much power in the game.''

Referee Bill Carollo ruled that Suggs hit Collins on the side of the helmet, even though replays seemed to show minimal contact, if any at all.

"He got him on the side of the helmet, the right side of the quarterback's helmet,'' Carollo said in a pool report. "We're blowing the whistle (because there was also a false start call against the Titans on the play), blowing the whistle. He may not have heard that -- and we're going to give him that -- but he still can't hit the quarterback on the helmet.''

The league will give Suggs more than that, meaning the benefit of the doubt on not hearing the whistle. They'll give him a monitary reminder of what not to say in a postgame setting.

"It didn't come close to his helmet,'' said Suggs, asked if his hand hit Collins' helmet. "I never in my six years in the NFL have been a dirty player or hit a quarterback in the head. We hit arms and personal foul on me.''

3. Ravens rookie quarterback Joe Flacco has trouble rolling right and throwing at the same time. Opposing defenses have identified a flaw in Flacco's still-developing game, and it involves throwing the ball on the run after rolling out to his right. Flacco threw three interceptions Sunday against the Titans, and even though one was overturned by an instant-replay challenge, all three came when he was out of the pocket and rolling right.

From the looks of it, Flacco has difficulty seeing the field in that situation, because all three picks were thrown right to a Titans defender.

"They make it simple for him,'' Finnegan said. "We had some people underneath, and some coverage over the top, and he just didn't see some (defenders).''

I'll say. On the Ravens' second drive, late in the first quarter, Flacco rolled right on a first-and-10 from the Baltimore 39 and spotted his intended receiver Mark Clayton near the right sideline. But he apparently didn't see Titans linebacker David Thornton between him and Clayton, because he practically hit Thornton between the numbers with his short pass to the Ravens' 41.

Thornton appeared to cleanly make the interception, but Baltimore challenged the call, arguing that he was bobbling the ball as he went out of bounds. Replays showed some lack of ball control, and Flacco's mistake was wiped out. But not for long.

On Baltimore's third drive, early in the second quarter, the same scenario unfolded. Facing a 3rd-and-6 from the Ravens' 31, Flacco rolled right out of the shotgun and fired a short pass in the direction of receiver Demetrius Williams. But Tennessee safety Michael Griffin was between Flacco and Williams, and easily stepped up for the interception at the Baltimore 38. Four plays later, Tennessee kicker Rob Bironas kicked a game-tying 35-yard field goal, making it 3-3 with 8:00 left in the first half.

The final time Flacco showed subpar field vision was a back-breaker for the Ravens. Down 13-10 just after the Titans took their first lead of the day with 1:56 left to play, Flacco took over at his own 20. On 2nd-and-8 from the 22, Flacco again rolled right and again looked for Clayton near the right sideline. And again, the QB failed to see a lurking Titans defender. This time it was cornerback Nick Harper who made the uncontested interception, catching the ball at the Baltimore 35 and stepping out of bounds with 1:24 left.

"I'm seeing things fine,'' Flacco said, rather unconvincingly. "I made a couple bad decisions today, and I've got to get better at that. I should've known to just get rid of the ball. I didn't use good judgment on those plays. Every now and then you have to just take what they give you, and if they don't give you anything, you gotta just throw the ball away. Live for the punt, and live for the next down.''

But the Ravens died with Flacco's mistakes of youth on Sunday, losing a second time in seven days by just three points.

"Sometimes with young quarterbacks, their vision isn't quite as wide as you want it to be,'' Ravens head coach John Harbaugh said. "He didn't see some of those coverages, but I'm sure he'll see it the next time. Those were two throws that clearly shouldn't have been made, that he'd like to have back.''

4. Kerry Collins knows how to win ugly. Tennessee generated only four first downs and 68 yards of offense in the first half. Collins completed just 6-of-13 passes for 33 yards, with two interceptions and a passer rating of 13.5 in that span. But when his team needed him, and victory was still within reach, Collins was up to the task, leading Tennessee on an 11-play, 80-yard touchdown march, capped by Alge Crumpler's 11-yard scoring catch with 1:56 left to play.

"I know this wasn't my best game,'' Collins said, in understatement. "In fact, things looked bad for three and a half quarters. We knew we were facing a great defense. They can really put the heat on you as a quarterback. I think we learned a lot about our team today. We showed a lot of character, especially on that last drive.''

What we learned most of all is that after all these years in the NFL, Collins knows it's not how you start a game, it's how you finish. He didn't panic when Baltimore made Tennessee's offense look anemic in the first half, and eventually he had his opportunity to make the Ravens pay.

"I like how with six minutes left, Kerry came in and kind of commandeered the game,'' Bulluck said. "He took control. He showed his poise and his leadership qualities in that last drive when we scored. Being a 14-year vet, with all the things he's done, I don't care how much talent a young quarterback has, they don't have that. They haven't played enough games.''

Collins was facing the Ravens in a starting situation for the first time since losing to Baltimore 34-7 as the Giants quarterback in Super Bowl XXXV almost eight years ago. He admitted it provided a little extra motivation Sunday.

"To be 5-0 is great, but it's hard to forget a game like I had in the Super Bowl,'' he said. "That wasn't one of my better days, and it was on my mind.''

5. The Titans are winning without even playing their best football. Tennessee won its last three games before Sunday by 13, 19 and 17 points, the only team to register double-digit victories in three of its first four games. But the Titans still haven't put together a complete game yet, and winning Sunday's 13-10 slugfest might actually help them down the road when they play other close, hard-fought games.

After their bye this week, the Titans have a winnable game at Kansas City in Week 7 before a showdown with five-time defending AFC South champion Indianapolis in Week 8. They should roll into that game at 6-0, the best start in franchise history.

"I've never been 5-0, so I'm going to enjoy it,'' said Crumpler, a first-year Titan. "It's wonderful. We've got some guys nicked up though, so our bye week couldn't come at a better time. But I'm excited about where we are. It's great to win this type of ballgame, but now we've got to put together a full game.''

Though they have a nice lead at the moment, the Titans almost certainly won't win the tough AFC with ease. So the way they gutted out the win against the rugged Ravens should help them down the road. At some point, they needed to feel what it was like to win after trailing on the road in the fourth quarter.

"It feels great to be 5-0,'' said Collins, who is now very much entrenched as this team's starter, no matter what the state of Vince Young's physical or mental health. "We learned today we can come from behind and win on the road against a good team. I hope we can keep this going, because I think we can have a good year.''

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