Ravens rally past Titans, 20-13, in wild-card round for first playoff win in six years

Jonas Shaffer, The Baltimore Sun

It didn’t look like anyone expected it to, but the Ravens got a playoff win.

With the NFL’s two best rushing offenses kept under wraps in Nashville, the fifth-seeded Ravens relied on their defense and Lamar Jackson’s playmaking to hold off the fourth-seeded Tennessee Titans, 20-13, in the wild-card round and earn their first playoff victory since 2014.

Cornerback Marcus Peters’ interception with under two minutes remaining ended the AFC South champions’ hopes of a game-tying drive and capped a dominant day for the Ravens defense.

Titans running back Derrick Henry, the NFL’s leading rusher, was held to 40 yards on 18 carries (2.2 per carry). After a strong start, quarterback Ryan Tannehill finished 18-for-26 for 165 yards, a touchdown and the crucial interception.

Quarterback Lamar Jackson overcame a slow start and a surprisingly stingy Titans defense to finish 17-for-24 for 179 yards. He added 16 carries for 136 yards, including a game-changing 48-yard score in the first half. Overall, the Ravens finished with 35 carries for 236 yards (6.7 per carry), though their running back room combined for just 81 yards.

The win silenced Jackson’s most vocal critics, who’d pointed to his 0-2 record as a starter in the postseason, both times as a favorite. The Ravens also got a small measure of revenge against Tennessee, which ended their Super Bowl dreams last season before adding to their misery with a Week 11 overtime win in Baltimore.

“We finished,” Jackson said in a postgame interview. “We finally finished.”

The Ravens didn’t lead until the third quarter, after their easiest drive all game. A 10-play, 77-yard march to open the second half ended with running back J.K. Dobbins (nine carries for 43 yards) barreling in from 4 yards out and a 17-10 lead.

The Ravens — and the Titans — kept the scoring to a minimum after that. After Tennessee was stymied in the red zone to end the third quarter, a rarity for any opposing defense, Titans kicker Stephen Gostkowski hit a 25-yarder.

The Ravens didn’t get close to the goal line again, but it didn’t matter. They got the help they needed. After kicker Justin Tucker missed from 52 yards, their defense held, forcing Tennessee to punt at the Ravens’ 40. It was a curious decision: According to Pro-Football-Reference, it was the first time in the website’s database (dating to 1994) that a team punted on fourth-and-2 from that field position, down by one score, in the fourth quarter of a playoff game.

On the Ravens’ next drive, they seemed to have a fourth-down conversion in Titans territory, but wide receiver Willie Snead IV (two catches for 9 yards) was flagged for offensive pass interference on a completion to running back Dobbins. Tucker got redemption, and made it look easy, nailing a 51-yard attempt for a 20-13 lead with just over four minutes remaining.

The Ravens had opened the game with their best imitation of last season’s playoff loss. On their first drive, they gained 5 yards and punted. On their second drive, Jackson missed wide receiver Miles Boykin badly on a deep shot, and cornerback Malcolm Butler came up with the Titans’ fourth interception in their past nine quarters against the Ravens.

By that point, the defense looked out of it, too. Even with Henry bottled up, the Ravens’ back end was struggling. Tannehill found Pro Bowl wide receiver A.J. Brown (six catches for 83 yards) for 28 yards, then 14 yards, then a 10-yard score, all in one drive, all against Pro Bowl cornerback Marlon Humphrey.

On their next possession, tight end Anthony Firkser had a 35-yard catch-and-run as he buzzed past inside linebacker Patrick Queen on a crossing pattern. Gostkowski’s 45-yard field goal gave the Titans a 10-0 lead, and the Ravens hadn’t even gotten past midfield.

The Ravens’ first-half spark was not a surprise. On third-and-9, Jackson scrambled 48 yards for a game-tying touchdown, flying up the middle to escape pressure before toasting the Titans’ secondary as he raced to the goal line. It was the second-longest playoff touchdown by a quarterback in NFL history, behind only a 56-yard run by the San Francisco 49ers’ Colin Kaepernick in 2012.

Wide receiver Marquise “Hollywood” Brown finished with seven catches on nine targets for 109 yards, both game highs, while tight end Mark Andrews added four catches for 41 yards.

The Ravens won’t know their next opponent until after Sunday night’s AFC North clash. With a win by the third-seeded Pittsburgh Steelers, the Ravens would face the top-seeded Chiefs in Kansas City. With a win by the sixth-seeded Cleveland Browns, the Ravens would face the second-seeded Bills in Buffalo.