Tougher Titans outlast Ravens

Posted: Sunday, January 04, 2004

BALTIMORE With one gritty victory, the Tennessee Titans ended a run of misery against Baltimore and kept alive their hope of returning to the Super Bowl.

NFL career scoring leader Gary Anderson kicked a 46-yard field goal with 29 seconds left after a courageous effort by a limping Steve McNair, giving the Titans a 20-17 victory Saturday in a first-round playoff game.

McNair, the league's co-MVP, engineered an eight-play, 35-yard drive to set up the winning kick, and Eddie George finished with 88 yards on 25 carries despite playing with a dislocated shoulder.

In the process, Tennessee snapped a five-game losing streak against the Ravens.

''A lot of people said, 'They beat you five times, you cannot beat them,' '' Titans receiver Derrick Mason said. ''Well, we did.''

The Titans (13-4) received an outstanding performance from their defense, which held 2003 NFL rushing champion Jamal Lewis to a season-low 35 yards on 14 carries.

''You can't discredit him for what he did, but when the playoffs come, it's a new season,'' Titans linebacker Keith Bulluck said. ''We don't have the league's No. 1 rush defense for no reason.''

Lewis ran for 2,066 yards during the regular season, the second-best total in league history. But he was rendered ineffective against the determined Titans.

''I knew they were going to soften up sooner or later, but we just didn't stick with it,'' Lewis said. ''I think they did soften up in the fourth quarter, but we didn't pound it like we should.''

The Titans will next play either Kansas City or New England for a spot in the AFC championship game. Tennessee has not been to the Super Bowl since after the 1999 season, when it lost to St. Louis.

McNair missed two of the Titans' last three games with injuries to both legs, and he was limping noticeably with ankle and calf problems. He refused to come out, however, perhaps because of all the frustration he's endured at the hands of Baltimore (10-7).

''I felt good. I got it tweaked early in the game and couldn't push off,'' McNair said. ''But if we're going to go a long way, I've got to do better than I did today.''

McNair threw three interceptions his most in a game since November 2002 against the Ravens but came up huge when it counted.

The same applies to George, who missed much of the first half with a dislocated shoulder after tackling Pro Bowl safety Ed Reed on an interception return.

George started the second half, and his punishing runs helped Tennessee control the clock. During the Titans' five-game losing streak to Baltimore, George scored one touchdown and averaged 55.4 yards rushing.

''It means we move on to the next round,'' George said. ''Our goal was to be in the championship game, and it starts here.''

The Titans got the better of Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis, the AP NFL Defensive Player of the Year, who had 17 tackles in a losing cause.

''One guy's not going to beat you,'' Mason said. ''They can keep talking about Ray Lewis, but he's at home right now and we're advancing.''

The Titans took a 14-10 lead in the third quarter when McNair threw a 49-yard touchdown pass to Justin McCareins, who adjusted to the pass much better than Baltimore defensive back Gary Baxter.

An interception by Samari Rolle set up Anderson's first field goal, from 45 yards, to make it 17-10 with 9:13 remaining.

Baltimore pulled even with 4:30 left when Todd Heap made a leaping catch over Tank Williams in the end zone on a 35-yard pass from Anthony Wright.

But McNair promptly brought the Titans downfield.

The Titans held Lewis to 12 yards rushing on seven carries in the first half and had a 159-105 advantage in yardage, but two interceptions helped the Ravens take a 10-7 lead.

Tennessee drove 67 yards in 10 plays on its first possession to go up 7-0. After McNair ran 9 yards on a third-and-3 from the Baltimore 11, backup running back Chris Brown scored his first NFL touchdown on a 6-yard run.

Then, after the Ravens went three-and-out, Baltimore's defense came to the rescue. Reed tipped a pass to teammate Will Demps, who weaved 56 yards with the interception for his first score as a pro.

McNair, however, had the last laugh.

''We knew he was going to move and get out of the pocket and make big plays for them,'' Demps said. ''He made the big plays when they needed them.'' Notes: Anderson's field goals were his longest this season. At 44, he is NFL's oldest player. ... Baltimore LB Peter Boulware (sprained knee) was on the inactive list. ... The Titans sacked Wright twice and are the only NFL team with at least one sack in every game this season. ... McNair's touchdown pass was his longest completion in a playoff game.

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