Inspired by a huge play on special teams, another stifling defensive effort and a timely video display, the Ravens knocked off the No. 1-seeded Tennessee Titans in an American Football Conference divisional playoff yesterday, 24-10.
The upset sends the Ravens into Sunday's AFC championship -- one game shy of Super Bowl XXXV -- against the second-seeded Oakland Raiders at Network Associates Coliseum.The Ravens (14-4) are trying to become the third No. 4 seed to reach the Super Bowl in four years, joining the Titans (1999) and Denver Broncos (1997).
"I can't gauge our chances," said Ravens owner Art Modell, "but I know we're going out to play a tough team."
In front of a record Adelphia Coliseum crowd of 68,527, the Ravens broke a 10-10, fourth-quarter tie with a pair of improbable touchdowns.
Anthony Mitchell, a first-year special teams player, delivered the first when he returned a tipped field goal attempt by the Titans' Al Del Greco for a 90-yard touchdown. The kick was blocked by defensive lineman Keith Washington, his second deflection against Del Greco on the day.
Middle linebacker Ray Lewis, the NFL's defensive player of the year, supplied the clinching touchdown less than six minutes later when he intercepted a pass by Steve McNair and returned it 50 yards. It was the first touchdown of Lewis' five-year NFL career.
That exciting conclusion to a torrid AFC Central Division rivalry earned Baltimore's first appearance in the AFC championship game since 1971, when the Colts lost, 21-0, to the Miami Dolphins.
"It's a long time coming, but I feel like it is our time," said Ravens defensive end Rob Burnett. "Every dog has his day, so to speak. Or every bird has his day would be a better way to put it."
It will be the first championship game for Modell since his 1989 Cleveland Browns were beaten by the Broncos.
The Ravens won for the second straight time at Adelphia Coliseum, the only two losses suffered by the Titans there in two years.
A pre-game video galvanized the Ravens and backfired on the Titans.
As the teams prepared for the opening kickoff, the Titans' video board showed Ravens coach Brian Billick making several statements about the Titans. None was inflammatory or derogatory, but the Ravens became incensed at the obvious motivational ploy.
"It kind of fed into our game plan," said quarterback Trent Dilfer. "We wanted this game to be a fistfight. We didn't want flash and glitz. We wanted this to be a straight-out street brawl.
"When they did that, that's what it became. You saw smiles on our sideline, because everybody recognized this is going to be a fistfight, this is going to be a brawl. This is old-school, 1940s football, and we feel very comfortable with that style."
Billick said the video was "totally classless" and emphasized that he had said only complimentary things about the Titans last week. "It was a great motivator," he said. "I went up and down that sideline and said, `Guys, you've got to back me up.' Every single one of them came and hugged me after the game. They said, `Coach, we've got your backside.' "
Billick exonerated Titans coach Jeff Fisher, general manager Floyd Reese and President Jeff Diamond from blame in the affair.
"I've known them for years, and they're class guys," Billick said. "There's no way anyone could ever convince me that they know about that. I'll be very, very surprised if they're not upset about that as much as I am."
Fisher's response: "They went down 7-0. I don't think the video had anything to do with it. It wasn't my video."
The Ravens fell behind 7-0 when Tennessee (13-4) drove 68 yards on its first possession. They spent the rest of the day keeping the Titans out of the end zone.
Tennessee had four possessions inside the Ravens' 20, but scored only 10 points from those opportunities. Del Greco, who missed a potential game-winning, 43-yard field goal in a Nov. 12 loss to the Ravens, suffered blocks of 45- and 37-yard tries, and hit the left upright on a 31-yard attempt.
Baltimore's offense managed just one red zone penetration, and came away with a 1-yard touchdown run by Jamal Lewis. That came one play after a 56-yard pass from Dilfer to tight end Shannon Sharpe in the second quarter.
The Ravens won despite being outgained, 317-134, in total yards, and 23-6 in first downs.