Newyorkjets.com will profile each playoff game in this NFL postseason, with a special eye on Jets angles in each of the matchups. Today: the AFC Divisional Round Game on Saturday afternoon:
(6) BALTIMORE (12-5) at (1) TENNESSEE (13-3), 4:30 p.m., CBS
The NFL's Divisional Round will open up with a bloodbath in Nashville.
The Ravens and the Titans are two of the most physically punishing teams in the league and this matchup promises to be a brawl in a phonebooth. Each club is going to take its shots and nobody's coming out unscathed.
While the Titans rested on Wild Card Weekend, Baltimore handled Miami, 27-9, with their standout defense as Rex Ryan's crew harassed Chad Pennington all afternoon, sacking Penny three times and rarely giving him time to comfortably set up in the pocket. And so after throwing seven interceptions during the 16-game regular season, Pennington was picked off four times.
Late in the opening half, with the score tied, 3-3, Ravens S Ed Reed collected the first of his two interceptions and returned it 64 yards for a game-changing score.
"Tennessee, here we come," Reed said following the win. "Here come the Ravens. The team you don't want to see."
Reed and the Ravens definitely have a swagger to their game, but the Titans won't be trembling. Back in Week 5, Tennessee earned a hard-fought 13-10 decision in Baltimore. In the laundry-filled contest, which featured a combined 21 penalties, the Titans mounted a fourth-quarter comeback as Kerry Collins marched his club 80 yards in 11 plays before connecting with TE Alge Crumpler from 11 yards out with 1:56 remaining.
"I like how, with six minutes left, Kerry came in and commanded the game," Titans linebacker Keith Bulluck said. "He showed his poise and his leadership qualities in that last drive when we scored. Being a 14-year vet, with all the things he's done, I don't care how much talent a young quarterback has, they don't have that. They haven't played enough games."
Collins and his rookie counterpart, Ravens QB Joe Flacco, were both intercepted twice but Collins made just enough plays late to gain the upper hand.
You have to start with the defenses.
Tennessee was second in the NFL in scoring defense, yielding just 14.6 points per game. But Baltimore's 15.2 points per game average was right behind, third overall.
The Ravens finished the regular season with top-three rankings in overall defense (2nd), rush defense (3rd) and pass defense (2nd) while the Titans earned top-10 status in overall defense (7th), rush defense (6th) and pass defense (9th).
Offensively, the Ravens and Titans want to establish a running game early and stick with it throughout.
The Ravens, who got a 75-yard, one-TD performance from Pro Bowl FB Le'Ron McClain last week, finished fourth in the NFL in rush offense. Baltimore got solid production from its top trio: McClain (902 yards, 10 TDs), Willis McGahee (671 yards, 7 TDs) and rookie Ray Rice (454 yards).
The Titans had the NFL's seventh-best rush offense and feature a two-headed monster with Chris Johnson (1,228 yards, 9 TDs) and LenDale White (773 yards, 15 TDs).
Collins will have to somehow avoid Reed, who will go down as one of the game's all-time great safeties and paced the league with nine regular-season INTs. No defensive tackle produced more sacks than the Titans' Albert Haynesworth as he amassed 8.5 in just 14 games.
And we'd be remiss if we didn't mention Ravens ILB Ray Lewis, who had a highly productive regular campaign (117 tackles, 12 PDs, 3 INTs, 2 FFs, 2 FRs).
This will be the third postseason contest played between the teams and the second in Tennessee.
Even though the roster has changed dramatically, the Ravens are hoping for déjà vu all over again. Following the 2000 season, they went to Nashville in the divisional round and captured a 24-10 victory. Then following a 16-3 win at Oakland, they coasted to a 34-7 win over the New York Giants in Super Bowl XXXV.
That Super Bowl was played in Tampa — the same sight as this year's title game.
"The guys who were part of that can draw on that," said Ravens first-year head coach John Harbaugh. "Rex has talked about that with me, and I've talked to Ray about that. I know they talk to different guys about it. It's neat. I think it's something that's positive. But this is a new year. That's a long time ago. These are two new football teams."
On Jan. 3, 2004, the Titans posted a 20-17 wild-card victory over the Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore. Steve McNair, who was the league's co-MVP in 2003, led a late-fourth-quarter drive to set up Gary Anderson's game-winning 46-yard field goal.
Even if former Jets standout Kevin Mawae (elbow) can't go at center, there will be a number of former Jets represented Saturday. The Titans employ DE Dave Ball, WR Justin McCareins and TE coach John Zernhelt while the Edgar Allen Poes have both TE Daniel Wilcox and WR coach Jim Hostler on their roster.
But the spotlight will be on Titans and former Jets offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger matching up against Ryan, the Ravens' defensive coordinator. Not only is Rex the son of former Jets assistant Buddy Ryan, he is also a candidate for the Jets' head coaching vacancy. He's a brilliant defensive mind who is scheduled to meet with the Green & White brass this weekend.