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Smack Down
Josh Elliott
January 15, 2001
The swaggering Ravens talked the talk—and walked the walk—in Nashville, and left with a punishing win over the Titans
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January 15, 2001

Smack Down

The swaggering Ravens talked the talk—and walked the walk—in Nashville, and left with a punishing win over the Titans

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While countless comparisons of the two defenses percolated during the week—Tennessee finished first in the NFL in fewest yards allowed (238.4 yards per game) and pass defense (151.5); the Ravens were tops against the run (60.6) and set a league record for fewest points allowed in a 16-game season (165)—it was the Baltimore defenders who set the contentious pregame mood. Burnett said that even Jim Brown couldn't have run on the Ravens, while reserve end Lional Dalton said that George should "take his panties off" before Sunday's game. That was followed by McAlister's bombshell that George had "folded like a baby" in the Nov. 12 game, in which he ran for only 28 yards on 12 carries. Ravens defenders said that George didn't like running against Baltimore, and that the Titans didn't respect them, and whatever else flashed through their minds last week. "We made those statements knowing we would have to back them up," Boulware said after Sunday's game, "and we did. We showed heart and guts, and we dug deep."

No stranger to speaking his mind, Billick embraced his players' liberal use of their right of free speech, knowing the Ravens would not buckle under the weight of their own hype. That much was learned in Baltimore's October crucible, when the Ravens went five games without scoring a touchdown. The defensive players held their tongues throughout the slump, refusing to even vaguely criticize their offensive teammates. Many players point to Billick's relentless spewing of his team-first philosophy and his use of motivational speakers during training camp—including Brown, former Baltimore Colts halfback Lenny Moore and Chicago Bears Hall of Fame linebacker Mike Singletary—for making the Ravens resilient, selfless and unified. "We never flinched, and that's because we resolved not to let outside circumstances dictate how we lived with one another," said quarterback Trent Dilfer. "Those guys on defense deserve so much credit for sticking by us."

"Everything in the game tears at the heart and fabric of the team concept," Billick said. "I wanted them to know that everyone in the NFL is talented, well coached and deserving, and that the difference [between winning and losing] is character and chemistry. We endured the ultimate challenge: holding together through an adversity that was ready to rip us apart. I know that we're a better team now, having stared into that abyss."

Forgive the Ravens, then, if the pregame video did nothing but stoke their fire. "We wanted to go out and back up what our coach said about us," said Burnett. That they did, especially during a four-minute span in the second and third quarters, when Titans rookie wideout Chris Coleman twice blocked Kyle Richardson punts. Despite the prime field position afforded by the blocks, Tennessee had only three points and a 10-7 lead to show for the those two possessions.

Ultimately, the game became a snapshot of Baltimore's season. The defense kept the game close, overcoming an offensive effort that can barely be described as adequate. The Ravens made only six first downs; Dilfer completed just five passes (and only one of note, a 56-yarder to tight end Shannon Sharpe early in the second quarter that led to a Jamal Lewis—17 carries, 47 yards—touchdown); and Tennessee outgained Baltimore by 317 yards to 134.

That left the Ravens' defense on the field for more than 40 minutes, while the special teams turned the game in Baltimore's favor. Reserve defensive end Keith Washington, swinging off bull rushes by Webster and then Dalton, twice blocked Al Del Greco field goal attempts, the second of which was returned 90 yards by reserve safety Anthony Mitchell for the game-winning touchdown with 12:12 left. "Nothing surprises me anymore about how we win," Billick, known for his skills as an offensive coach, said afterward. "I've been pulled over to the dark side. We'll keep winning with defense and special teams, and that'll be fine."

In the aftermath of the victory that sent the Ravens into this Sunday's AFC Championship Game against the Raiders in Oakland, Baltimore's defiant swagger was even more pronounced. Prickly throughout his postgame address, Billick lashed out at Tennessee over the pregame video, calling it "totally classless" and saying he didn't believe that coach Jeff Fisher, general manager Floyd Reese or president Jeff Diamond had anything to do with it—though his tone and mannerisms suggested otherwise.

As the visitors' locker room slowly emptied, Ray Lewis, ever the diplomat, had one last thing to say. "Every week we're the underdogs, and every week we prove everyone wrong," he said, as his rapt defensive mates stood beside him, their garish military garb seeming an appropriate choice after all. "But the worst thing anyone can do is piss us off."

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