George: Ravens’ defense imposes its will

Thomas George reports from the Ravens-Titans game. Check NFL.com later for his complete column.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The Baltimore Ravens reminded the Tennessee Titans on Saturday that the best defense flattens ball-carriers. That the best one pops balls loose all over the field.

That’s what the Ravens did in winning 13-10 at LP Field and earning a spot in the AFC Championship Game.

The Titans moved the ball north and south and east and west and with ease all afternoon, but they had precious few points to show for it. Tennessee seemed so concerned with moving the ball effectively against the vaunted Baltimore defense that it forgot one thing: Yards are nice, but points are essential.

And though the Titans drilled the Ravens in first downs (21 to 9), in total yards (391 to 211) and in rushing yards (116 to 50), the Ravens’ defense did the drilling when it mattered most.

It forced five Titans fumbles and recovered two of them.

It intercepted one Kerry Collins pass.

It forced the Titans into 12 penalties for 89 yards.

Titans coach Jeff Fisher called them all “self-inflicted mistakes,” but the Ravens did their share in creating it all. Tennessee couldn’t overcome colossal miscues that Baltimore had its hands, its imprint all over:

• Early in the second quarter, facing fourth-and-8 from the Ravens’ 30, the Titans opted against a field-goal attempt into the wind and reached for a first-down try from shotgun formation. Problem was, the play never had a chance, since Collins fumbled the snap.

• On their next possession, the Titans drove from inside their 1 to the Ravens’ 32. But on a third-and-8 play, Collins, under pressure, threw a deep lob pass that was intercepted by Baltimore cornerback Samari Rolle.

• Cornerback Cortland Finnegan was penalized 10 yards before the Titans’ final first-half possession began for holding on the punt received. Then with 36 seconds left, Tennessee running back LenDale White fumbled the ball at the Ravens’ 17 after being leveled by Baltimore linebacker Jarret Johnson.

• Early in the third quarter, Titans kicker Rob Bironas missed a 51-yard field-goal attempt wide left.

• Finally, early in the fourth quarter, Titans tight end Alge Crumpler fumbled the ball at the Ravens’ 6 after being pummeled by Baltimore safety Jim Leonhard. The Ravens recovered at the 1, halting the Titans’ touchdown try.

The game became one of attrition as both sides lost key players to injury — among them running back Chris Johnson for the Titans and linebacker Terrell Suggs for the Ravens. But the Ravens had the staying power and the rookie quarterback who played beyond his experience.

Joe Flacco fired a 23-yard strike to tight end Todd Heap to set up Matt Stover’s winning 43-yard field goal. It was a third-and-2 pass that shocked the Titans and stung them, too, helping ruin Tennessee’s 13-win season and making inconsequential its No. 1 AFC seeding.

The Ravens’ defense did, indeed, bend — but then it broke the Titans.

Flacco took it one play at a time. By game’s end, he and the Ravens had moved one step closer to Super Bowl XLIII.

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