Remember the Ravens? The Tennessee Titans haven’t forgotten.
Photo by Mike Strasinger
Steve McNair has helped the Titans dominate the Ravens over the past four games but hasn't been able to close the deal.
Four straight losses– including a playoff heartbreaker at home in January 2001 – to a team that doesn’t mind reminding you, will do that.
And though many of the names and faces have changed for both sides since the teams parted company in the old AFC Central at the end of last year, those Titans who were a part of those disappointments know what’s at stake Sunday in Baltimore.
“It’s one of those things where we just need to beat them,” cornerback Samari Rolle said. “We haven’t beaten them in a long time. They gave me my most painful loss ever. Losing to them in the playoff game hurt worse than losing the Super Bowl, just because it was them. We just need to match their intensity.”
These Ravens are decidedly different. What the salary cap, the expansion draft and free agency did not wrought upon the Ravens, injuries have. Gone are such trash talkers as Shannon Sharpe and Tony Siragusa, along with other key contributors like defensive tackle Sam Adams, safety Rod Woodson, return man Jermaine Lewis, linebacker Jamie Sharper and receiver Qadry Ismail. To make matters worse for Baltimore, star linebacker Ray Lewis is doubtful because of calf and shoulder injuries.
With a roster full of young players, free agents and castoffs, Baltimore is currently limping along at 4-6. Barring them running the table, the Ravens will probably be sitting at home watching the postseason this year.
“This has been a great rivalry. It really has,” said Ravens coach Brian Billick, perhaps the chief pot-stirrer in the series. “There have been great games. Certainly our veterans are aware of it, our fans are aware of it. These young guys, the same as when we played Jacksonville, I think they’re aware of it. They sense the energy by the organization, the veterans, the city. But I don’t know that they can fully appreciate it.”
Billick went on to infer that the matchup won’t have the same meaning Sunday with so many key Ravens now gone.
“When [the Titans] come out and step on that field and look across the line of scrimmage and not recognize anybody, you know, it does taint it a little bit,” Billick said.
Wanna bet, counter the Titans, who are looking at Sunday’s game as a chance to exorcise some old demons against the team that not only haunted them the past two seasons, but made a point of telling them about it as well.
“They’ve still got their best player [Ray Lewis],” Rolle said. “They’re still going to play tough. And Jamal Lewis is still there, so they’ve got some challenges that we’ve got to prepare for.”
Added nickelback Donald Mitchell: “We know when we play the Ravens it is going to be a war because both teams have been going at each other during the last few years. It is still a major rivalry with us, because even though they lost key veterans to free agency and the salary cap, Brian Billick still serves as their head coach.”
Indeed, Billick would appear to be a primary player in the rivalry, though in this week’s conference call, he had only good things to say about the Titans who have won five in a row.
“Tennessee, this is as confident a team as I’ve seen in a long time,” Billick said. “They have come through, much like our championship year. When you come through that 1-4 start and you survive it, and you hold each other together as a team - and Jeff [Fisher] has done a masterful job of holding them together under a great deal of scrutiny, duress and criticism - you are stronger for coming out of it. And I see this in this Titans team.”
It is a confidence that has been a long time coming. There are those who still say the Titans’ entire 2001 flop of a season that ended 7-9 (and this year’s 1-4 start as well) was in part influenced by the playoff loss that came when the Ravens turned a Ray Lewis interception and a block of an Al Del Greco field goal into 14 decisive points to beat the Titans 24-10.
Now, with Tennessee on a win streak and Baltimore rebuilding, the tables may have turned. But there is still a bit of unfinished business the Titans would like to take care of on Sunday.
“This game is along the same line as Pittsburgh because it is redemption for us to defeat them,” receiver Kevin Dyson said. “It is a heated rivalry that has seen Baltimore have the upper hand over us during the last two seasons. They have a swagger over us because Baltimore has had our number the last couple of years.”
Fisher wouldn’t admit that the Ravens have had a psychological edge on his team during the four-game streak, but he said it is time to put all that to rest.
“We have lost four straight against them. This is our shot this year, but still it is a physical game,” Fisher said. “There are a number of players left there that the last couple of years have had the upper hand in this matchup. Obviously, it is a much-needed game for us, so we have to go in and play well. We just, for whatever reason, have not played well against them. They have made plays at the end, we have lost close games and we have lost games that were not close against them. We will find out Sunday if there is a change in the guard or not.”