By: Jordan Kendall, Assistant Sports Editor
Entering the playoffs, the Baltimore Ravens were the favorites to win the Super Bowl. The Tennessee Titans had other ideas, shocking the NFL community with a 28-12 upset to advance to the AFC Championship. Baltimore’s magical season comes to a disappointing end, and questions have to be asked. What happened to the 14-2 Ravens who had the best record in the NFL and one of the most explosive offenses in recent memory? Or the defense that was a top-five unit in the regular season?
It started up front
The offensive line was one of the best this season, allowing the sixth fewest sacks and third-fewest quarterback hits during the regular season. This led to Baltimore boasting the only offense to rush for over 3,000 yards since 1978. Entering this game, it was expected that Baltimore would be successful at running the football. This wasn’t the case against the Titans. The Ravens rushed for 185 yards, but quarterback Lamar Jackson had 143 yards. Usually, that would be considered a great game, but running backs Mark Ingram and Gus Edwards were held to under 25 yards each. Ingram was battling a calf injury, but 42 rushing yards between two running backs is concerning.
Tennessee had a masterful game plan by head coach Mike Vrabel and defensive coordinator Dean Pees. They contained the edge and always had someone to take away outside runs. Not only did they get to the backfield quickly, but they also made sure to leave their mark and were delivering vicious hits every play. They contained Jackson and prevented him from doing damage outside the pocket. It worked, he forced some bad throws that were either incomplete or resulted in two interceptions.
Lamar Jackson, the good, the bad, and the ugly
The first interception was on Baltimore’s first drive and was not Jackson’s fault, it was deflected off his receiver’s hands and picked. However, it seemed that half of Jackson’s throws were bad throws with pressure in his face. The other half were good throws but were dropped by his receivers. Yes, most of his 508 yards of total offense came when the game was practically over. But Jackson never quit, and as a football fan, I respect that. He cut the deficit to two scores, and if the score was all you saw it wouldn’t seem like the Titans dominated as much as they did. I think this was more about his receivers not stepping up to make plays than Jackson failing to deliver them the ball.
The Ravens lack a true number one receiver and it showed. Wide receiver Marquise Brown looks like a good player, but he isn’t a number one receiver yet. He has potential and made some big catches against Tennessee, but it’s clear Baltimore needs more. Jackson’s favorite target was tight end Mark Andrews, who led the Ravens with over 800 receiving yards. But against the Titans, he was held to four catches for 39 yards.
The offense appeared to have enough weapons to beat opponents in multiple ways, they could beat you on the ground with a dual-threat quarterback or beat you by throwing to tight ends and fast receivers. Against Tennessee that wasn’t the case. Jackson deserves some of the blame, but this loss isn’t mostly on him.
Defense didn’t win a championship
Baltimore has been historically dominant on defense. This season they were fourth in yards allowed per game and were the fifth against the run. Titans running back Derrick Henry had something to say about this. After a 182-yard performance against the New England Patriots, he followed it with a 195-yard game vs. the Ravens.
This included a 66-yard run in the third quarter. He seemed to pick up four to five yards easily on every carry. I don’t think I have seen a running back this physical and dominant since Marshawn Lynch of the Seattle Seahawks five years ago. Henry might be this decade’s Beast Mode, he refuses to go down and isn’t afraid to run through a defender to pick up an extra yard.
“If Tannehill tries to pass on us, I don’t think that will go in their favor,” Baltimore safety Earl Thomas said before the game. “We know they’re going to try to run the ball. But we just have to stop the run and play sound on the back end. I think that will take care of the play-action pass.”
Tannehill only threw 14 passes, but two went for touchdowns. It’s ironic since the second one went for 45-yards off play action. The Ravens are supposed to dominate defensively, yet were the ones who were outplayed the entire game. They deserve a lot of the blame for what happened, but there’s one person I haven’t mentioned.
John Harbaugh, really?
For a former Super Bowl-winning head coach, I expected better. This team was not motivated and clearly underestimated what the Titans were capable of. He failed to make the players realize that nothing is guaranteed in the playoffs. Once the postseason begins, it’s a new season and it needs to be treated as such. Whether you finished 9-7 or 14-2 in the regular season, you have to play as good if not better to win a championship. Baltimore wasn’t prepared to play from behind and it showed. This was an embarrassing loss for the Ravens. This will go down as one of the worst moments in the history of Baltimore sports.
I’m not a Ravens fan, but as a Maryland native, I was hoping to see them win the Super Bowl. I went as far as to consider attending the parade since Towson isn’t far from downtown Baltimore. Ravens fans should be proud of what they accomplished, the best regular season in franchise history and the top record in the NFL. The offense was unlike anything in recent memory, and Big Truss swept the nation. But also feel disappointed in the outcome, and what could’ve been.