After being gashed by the Jaguars' running game and failing to create any significant pressure on quarterback Luke McCown, the Titans flipped the script yesterday as they clogged all running lanes and made life miserable for quarterback Joe Flacco.
Hasselbeck was superb with his 30-for-42, 358-yard, one-TD performance. Kenny Britt caught nine passes for 135 yards and a TD.
But it was the Tennessee defense that set the tone early. The Titans defense brought the heat right out of the box, consistently forcing Flacco out of the pocket while maintaining discipline in its coverage schemes downfield.
Baltimore didn't register a first down until their fourth offensive series, and that was due only to Michael Griffin's 15-yard unnecessary roughness penalty.
With neither team making an impression on the scoreboard in the 1st quarter, it was no surprise that the first points came as a result of a turnover. The Ravens brought running back Ricky Williams into the game, and his first carry proved to be costly. He was stopped for a loss and stripped by defensive tackle Karl Klug; the fumble was recovered by safety Jordan Babineaux, who filled in admirably for an injured Chris Hope.
Completions of 8 yards to Lavelle Hawkins and 9 yards to Britt brought the Titans deep into Baltimore territory, but the offense stalled and settled for a 25-yard Rob Bironas field goal. Usually automatic from any distance, Bironas had earlier missed a 34-yard field goal attempt.
Baltimore's stagnant offense seem to be sparked by their earlier mishap, and perhaps knowing they escaped with only allowing the Titans a field goal. The Ravens responded quickly with a seven-play, 81-yard drive in just under 4 minutes, with Ray Rice taking a short pass from Flacco and rumbling 31 yards for the score.
Both offenses appeared to gain confidence, and the Titans wasted no time answering Baltimore's touchdown drive.
Although it's early in the season, this Tennessee team looks different on many fronts. Titans fans will be cautiously optimistic after some impressive play-calling courtesy of both offensive coordinator Chris Palmer and defensive coordinator Jerry Gray.
The Titans came out throwing after the Ravens' score. Hasselbeck connected deep down field on the right sideline for a 33-yard hookup with tight end Jared Cook, who made an acrobatic, athletic catch over safety Ed Reed.
That play sparked the offense, as Hasselbeck completed two passes to Washington and three to Britt, catching Baltimore's defense off guard and keeping them unbalanced. A 4-yard TD pass to Britt gave the Titans a 10-7 lead. Tennessee looked solid in their nine-play, 80-yard drive, which only took 3:58 off the clock.
Tennessee must have thought they were heading to the locker room with a slim lead, but the Ravens almost scored on the ensuing kickoff, with David Reed taking a return 77 yards to the Tennessee 30-yard line. A roughing the passer penalty on Derrick Morgan drew the Ravens closer, and Baltimore unexpectedly found themselves inside the 20. Tennessee's defense remained aggressive and sacked Flacco, forcing the Ravens to kick a game-tying field goal with time expiring at the end of the first half.
The Titans had the ball first to begin the 2nd half, and they were intent on making up for some of the opportunities they squandered in the early stages of the game. Hasselbeck came out hot, attacking both sides of the field and not shying away from safety Ed Reed. On a 3rd and 8 from the Titans 27-yard line, Hasselbeck floated a perfectly thrown deep ball to a scorching Nate Washington down the middle of the field for a big gain of 42 yards, taking the Titans to the Baltimore 31.
Javon Ringer then swung it to the outside for a run of 12 yards, bringing the Titans offense to the Baltimore 19-yard line. A few plays later, Tennessee found themselves in a 3rd and 8 situation once again, and Hasselbeck decided to go right back to Nate Washington, who came up one yard short. Tennessee faced their first big decision of the day, and perhaps under the old regime they would've settled for a field goal and the lead.
But new head coach Mike Munchak has the look of a gambler, and no one could've seen the next play coming. With a 4th and 1 on the Baltimore 10, the Titans called a pitch to Ringer on the left side, which was perfectly executed through expert blocking. Ringer went untouched in to the end zone and gave the Titans what would prove to be the winning TD.
Tennessee's defense was relentless: they were hell-bent on attacking Joe Flacco, and they didn't fail, registering three sacks and hurrying the Ravens QB on numerous occasions, in addition to intercepting him twice.
Tennessee struck the early blows, right to the chin straps of the entire Ravens team, on both sides of the ball. As the game progressed, it didn't appear as though Baltimore was up for the fight.
Tennessee added three more field goals to pull away, but one of the more definitive plays in the game—and perhaps of this new, revamped Tennessee organization—came with six minutes left and Tennessee facing a 3rd on 9 from their own 21-yard line.
With Tennessee preserving a comfortable 23-13 lead, it would've been easy, even logical, to run the ball, punt, and play defense. Instead, Hasselbeck and Co. opted to seal the game with a deep strike to the heart of the Ravens defense, a 28-yard link up with Britt, one of the best young receivers in the game, advancing the ball to midfield and giving Tennessee the option to play the clock for the remainder of the game.
In two weeks, Titans fans have seen the good, bad, and ugly, but they'll know that when this team is firing on all cylinders, it won't be easily beaten.
With Peyton Manning out of the fray, the AFC South has become one of the more interesting stories early in this NFL season. This division is up for grabs, but with the Jaguars apparently joining the Colts in disarray, the games played between Houston and Tennessee will be the deciding factor.
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