NASHVILLE, Tenn. - The Baltimore Ravens defeated the Tennessee Titans in what was touted all week as a defensive slugfest. The No. 2- and No. 3-ranked defenses in the league play each other like their lives depend on winning each and every time they meet, and this game was expected to be nothing out of the ordinary in that regard.
The game began with both offenses showing that there were 11 other players on the field who needed consideration.
Chris Johnson showed some Barry Sanders-esque moves to put the Titans on the board first, answered by Joe Flacco's strike to former Titans receiver Derrick Mason for 48 yards, and Tennessee and Baltimore went into the second quarter tied at seven apiece.
Then defense took over. Both defenses stepped up big time, but the Ravens were tested three times and came up huge—or lucky, depending on your perspective— dodging every bullet the Titans fired at them.
Early in the second quarter, Tennessee was pinned at their one-inch line. Hampered by a false start and personal foul, it took them eight plays to broach their own 20.
Once they got rolling, though, they looked poised to drive the rest of the way down the field for a touchdown.
Samari Rolle, another former Titan, would have none of it.
After the third offensive penalty of the series, Collins dropped back on third-and-eight and tried to connect with Justin McCareins, but Rolle stepped in front of the pass, picking it off at the nine and returning it to the Baltimore 12.
Dodged bullet No. 1.
The Titans threatened again late in the half, but LenDale White fumbled in the red zone, and the Ravens recovered the ball at the 15 to stop the drive cold.
Dodged bullet No. 2.
Both teams held each other scoreless in the third, with each team's defense holding the opposing offense to no more than six plays per drive, and the score remained locked at 7-7 going into the fourth.
Tennessee again challenged the Ravens early in the fourth after Baltimore went up 6-3 on a 21-yard field goal by Matt Stover to open the period. But Alge Crumpler was pummelled as he dove near the Ravens goal line, and the Ravens recovered the fumble at the one.
Dodged bullet No. 3.
Holding a 10-7 lead, Joe Flacco appeared to commit a major gaffe. Rolling out of the pocket, he came perilously close to stepping out of bounds in the end zone, which would have given the Titans two points for the safety and a free kick.
He missed stepping out by less than the width of his foot, and Baltimore was able to punt the ball away.
Tennessee mustered enough offense on the ensuing drive to get within field goal range, and the score was knotted 10-10.
Baltimore got a huge assist from the officials on the next drive, however. With third-and-two from their own 32, they needed a big play to keep the drive alive and get within field goal range.
The officials were glad to oblige.
The back judge gave Flacco an additional two seconds to snap the ball, averting a delay of game penalty that likely would have changed the play call and could given the Titans the ball back with one more opportunity to score.
Instead, Flacco hit Todd Heap for 23 yards to the Titans' 45, and six plays later Matt Stover kicked the game winner from 45 yards.
With only 57 seconds and one timeout left, the Titans were unable to move the ball more than five yards down field. Collins threw a meaningless interception on fourth-and-five, and Joe Flacco took a knee with 15 seconds remaining to take the game home.
This game lived up to expectations and saw the emergence of a rookie quarterback who defied the odds in winning his second playoff game.
The two teams combined for a total of 129 penalty yards, there were multiple stoppages for injuries, and Joe Flacco ripped the rookie sticker off his back bumper by showing the poise of a champion in helping lead the Ravens to victory.
Baltimore did exactly what they needed to do to win this game. The offensive line provided great protection all day, Flacco made key third down conversions when it absolutely counted, and the defense stepped up when they absolutely had to.
Most importantly, they capitalized on three disastrous turnovers by Tennessee that were the difference in the game.
Three horrible turnovers in a playoff game after being at the top of the league in turnover differential killed the Titans. If Tennessee had held on to any of the three, they probably would have won the game.
Instead, Baltimore travels next week to play for the AFC Championship, while Tennessee has the entire off-season to think about another one that got away.