Throw out the saying, “Once Is an Accident. Twice is a Coincidence. Three Times is a Habit.” It does not apply to the Tennessee Titans.
The Baltimore Ravens have one of the best offenses in the National Football League, and twice in 2020 the Titans have made a habit of stifling that attack, specifically All-Pro quarterback Lamar Jackson.
Tennessee topped the Ravens in the AFC Divisional Round last January, and did so again Sunday in a 30-24 overtime victory at M&T Bank Stadium.
The Titans held Jackson, the 2019 NFL MVP, to 186 passing yards, one passing touchdown and 51 yards rushing in the victory. More often than not, the Ravens had to settle for field goals instead of touchdowns.
“Even though we were able to get two wins against him [Jackson] doesn’t take away from his athleticism and what he can do with the football,” linebacker Rashaan Evans said. “The Ravens are a good team. We played a good team. For us to go out and do what we did and get a win again in this stadium, it gives us a lot of confidence.”
While the Ravens exposed some of the Titans' usual weaknesses -- third-down defense in particular -- the defense needed a performance such as this one. Entering Sunday’s contest, the unit ranked toward the bottom of the league in pass defense, run defense and total defense.
Although Tennessee gave up its share of yards -- 306 of them -- it limited the Ravens’ explosive, big-play abilities. Baltimore’s longest gain came in the third quarter when Jackson found tight end Mark Andrews for a 31-yard touchdown.
As a runner, the dual-threat Jackson was held to a season-low 3.9 yards per carry (minimum five attempts). Over his first nine games he averaged nearly 5.8. The third-year quarterback had rushed for at least 55 yards in five games this season, including in each of the previous four.
“That’s one of our keys,” defensive tackle Jeffery Simmons said. “Make him go lateral. Make sure he’s not going down the middle of the field and make him go from sideline to sideline. ... I think we did a great job at that.
“Same thing last (season). That’s what we talked about. Don’t let him go down the middle of our defense. Same thing we did today. Overall, we played great as a defense. Everybody did their job.”
Most importantly, the Titans were able to keep the game in reach with strong play in the red zone, where the Ravens settled for field goals on three of their four trips. Running back J.K. Dobbins had the lone touchdown on a two-yard run in the second quarter.
“That is a tough offense to gameplan for, to prepare for,” coach Mike Vrabel said. “I thought we executed the keys. We could always be better on third down, but when you can make them kick field goals in the red zone, you have a chance. Certainly, coming up with the big stops when we did was key.”
Of the timely defensive stops, two stood out.
After wide receiver A.J. Brown scored a go-ahead touchdown late in the fourth quarter, the Titans led the Ravens 24-21. In a matter of five plays, the Ravens drove down to the Titans’ 14 and were in position to win the game with a touchdown. From there the defense held the Ravens to another field goal.
Baltimore got the first crack on offense in overtime, and the Titans held again. Outside linebacker Harold Landry could not have picked a better time for the defense’s first and only sack of the game (it gave him a team-high three and a half for the season). The sack set Jackson and the Ravens back nine yards.
After a minimal gain on third and long, the Ravens punted the ball away to the Titans. Six plays later, Pro Bowl running back Derrick Henry, who had 133 yards on 28 carries, ended the game with a 29-yard run scamper to the end zone.
“We really played with a lot of confidence. I feel like we played with each other,” Evans said. “Every guy out there was playing for the guy that was next to him and you saw the results.”
With six games to go and the playoff chase only getting more intense, the Titans (7-3) certainly need that to continue.
“We talked about it all week, [the AFC] is packed in there, and we are going to have to start doing things that will break us away from the pack,” Vrabel said. “(Sunday) was a great step, it was a great team win.”