“It’s the game of the weekend.”
Baltimore Ravens at Tennessee Titans is the pick of the bunch from a ‘super’ Wild Card Weekend, reckons Good Morning Football‘s Kyle Brandt.
“I think we have to remember that last year, the Ravens were the number one story in football,” he added. “They were a party – it looked so fun – and then they got absolutely cracked.”
Twelve months ago, the Ravens, supremely confident, rode an NFL-best 14-2 record (and 12-straight wins) into the postseason, with the league MVP, Lamar Jackson, leading a ground-breaking offence.
- Play the Super Bowl Challenge
Jackson rushed for 1,206 yards on the season – a new single-season record by a quarterback – and he was just as effective in the passing game (3,127 yards and 36 TDs). The Ravens finished the regular season with an NFL-record 3,296 rushing yards, also becoming the first team in history to average at least 200 passing yards and 200 rushing yards per game.
Then, on January 11, as Brandt says, the party was ended all too early. Playing spoiler that night? Their opponents again on Sunday, the Tennessee Titans.
- Tom Brady, Tampa Bay Buccaneers hold off inspired Taylor Heinicke
- Los Angeles Rams beat up Seattle Seahawks in defensive battle
- Buffalo Bills frustrate Indianapolis Colts in first playoff win since 1995
Things are a little different one year on; most notably, Tennessee will host Baltimore this time round, and a stage earlier, in the Wild Card round of the playoffs. The Ravens do not have the buzz that they did a year ago, taking a backseat to Patrick Mahomes and the defending-champion Kansas City Chiefs as well as Josh Allen’s exciting Buffalo Bills in the AFC.
But there are also some familiar narratives that will be repeating themselves in the run-up to kick-off at 6.05pm, Sunday. Can Jackson win in the playoffs? Is there any stopping Titans running back Derrick Henry? And with the same question asked regarding the Ravens’ juggernaut of a run game?
Jackson, even at just 24 years of age, is acutely aware of the noise already surrounding his 0-2 record in the playoffs, having also been beaten by the Chargers in his rookie season.
“I’m definitely trying to erase that narrative right there. That’s number one on my mind,” he said this week.
“I don’t really care what people have got to say. I’ve only been to the playoffs twice; other people who have been in the league forever haven’t been to the playoffs at all. But it is what it is.
“It’s win or go home right now – I want to win regardless.”
Last year’s loss cannot be levelled solely at Jackson. He did some good things, throwing for 365 yards and rushing for 143 – the first QB in NFL history to go over 300 yards passing and rush for a ton in a playoff game.
However, dig a little deeper into those stats and Jackson’s completion percentage was only a smidge over 50 per cent from 59 attempts, he threw two interceptions and also lost a fumble.
There appeared to be a hangover that lingered a little into this season; Jackson was not the force he was in 2019, while the team too stumbled their way to a 6-5 record by early December, in danger of missing the postseason altogether.
However, five-straight wins followed down the stretch and the Ravens – and Jackson – are suddenly playing their best football at the perfect time.
Admittedly, four of those wins came against losing teams with a combined record of 17-46-1 – hardly the sternest of opposition – but it was the second of the five, against the 11-5 Cleveland Browns, which can be seen as the real turning point of Baltimore’s season.
- It’s never easy being the Cleveland Browns
The Ravens were flirting with a fifth defeat in seven, when Jackson – who had earlier rushed for two touchdowns – left the game for a short time in the fourth quarter with ‘cramp’, turning him into an internet meme sensation.
Backup QB Trace McSorley was forced into the game, but left with a knee injury with Baltimore – down by one, with only two minutes remaining – facing fourth-and-five from the Cleveland 44-yard line. Jackson promptly raced back onto the field and threw a perfect touchdown pass to Marquise Brown.
The Ravens have not looked back since, rediscovering their mojo on offence, even rushing for a staggering 404 yards last week in the blowout win over the Cincinnati Bengals.
As Chris Simms noted on Pro Football Talk this week, the ‘must-win’ approach adopted by Baltimore, necessitated by their 6-5 start, might help them avoid going one-and-done against the Titans again this weekend.
“The way they are playing here, down the month of December into January, wow,” said Simms. “The offence, the run game, is just unstoppable.
“Lamar has found a found a good balance of throwing if people are open and, if not, he’ll bolt and run for 20 yards. Everything is working for Baltimore right now.
“Last year, we went into the playoffs like it was inevitable that the Ravens would win the divisional game and go to the AFC Championship. This year they’ve had to fight for it and I think they have showed us something fighting for it.
“They are completely capable of rising to the challenge. And the fact it has been playoff game after playoff game down the stretch, it has almost made that point about Jackson [being 0-2 in the playoffs] a little less edgy.”
Brandt said similar, but issued a stark warning that it might not matter how Jackson and the Ravens play on offence if their defence can’t stop a certain someone in the Titans backfield.
“Lamar could play great and lose this game,” he said. “Somebody needs to tackle the running back from the Titans – that’s what this game is about.”
Derrick Henry. The Titans running back is fresh from becoming just the eighth player in NFL history to rush for over 2,000 yards in a single season after posting a career-best 250 against the Houston Texans last week.
He topped 200 in that playoff win a year ago too, accounting for 205 of Tennessee’s 300 total yards of offence, while his stat line in the Titans’ 30-24 win in Baltimore in Week 11 of this season was a non-to-be-sniffed at 133 yards from 28 carries and the walk-off 29-yard touchdown in overtime.
The offence runs through Henry, literally, but arguably making Tennessee even more dangerous an opponent a year on from that upset playoff win is the fact they can now mix it much more in the passing game.
Ryan Tannehill, as much as he impressed after taking over the starting quarterback job midway through last season, he has truly blossomed in 2020, throwing 33 touchdowns to just seven interception, with his connection with stud second-year receiver A.J. Brown proving particularly fruitful.
The Titans are tied for second (with the Bills) in the NFL in total offence, averaging 396.4 yards per game. Where they fall down, however, is on the defensive side of the ball, with Mike Vrabel’s unit in the bottom five, giving up 398.3 YPG.
This one has all the making of a high-scoring classic; a revenge game; a quarterback looking to prove his playoff credentials; the NFL’s leading rush attack versus the league’s leading rusher.
Game of the weekend? Quite possibly. Sign us up.
Watch the Baltimore Ravens at the Tennessee Titans live from 6.05pm on Sky Sports NFL as part of the Sunday night NFL Wild Card triple-header.
Source: Read Full Article