Titans give, but Ravens don't take

October 11, 1999|By John Eisenberg

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The simple version of the Ravens' 14-11 loss to the Titans yesterday?

The Titans played one of the dumbest games in NFL history and dared Ravens quarterback Stoney Case to finish them off with his passing. He couldn't.

The result was a loss as frustrating as any the Ravens have experienced, which, given their record, is saying something.

But they had so much to gain for a change this time, and they should have won, and what's more frustrating than that?

"Man, we had so many opportunities," Case said.

A win would have given the Ravens a sweep of their two-game trip to Atlanta and Tennessee, a 3-2 record with two home games coming up and real momentum for the first time since moving to Baltimore.

Given those high stakes, there was no excuse for losing on a day when the Titans broke a 48-year-old NFL record for most penalty yards in game.

Basically, the Titans gave them the game, and they didn't take it.

"It's frustrating, very frustrating," Ravens coach Brian Billick said.

Casting the loss in a relatively positive light would be so easy. Playing on the road, and playing impressively hard, the Ravens took a first-place team down to the final play. That's pretty good. So is a split of any two-game trip in the NFL.

"We fought so hard," middle linebacker Ray Lewis said. "It was a total dogfight out there, on the road against a winning team. That's the good news."

But you can't cast a game in a positive light when your opponent totals 272 yards of offense and 212 yards of penalties and still wins.

You can't see the glass as half full when all you need to do to win is make a couple of plays on offense, just a couple, and the other team is daring you to get it done a certain way, and you can't.

"The next time we play them, we'll have a better game plan," Ravens running back Errict Rhett said.

Just a better passing game will do.

Knowing that Case was making only his fourth NFL start, that his receivers weren't the most dangerous and that Rhett was coming off three straight 100-yard rushing days, the Titans did what any team would do -- they stacked their defense to stop Rhett, leaving the secondary more exposed for Case to beat.

The strategy worked. Rhett totaled only 59 rushing yards on 21 carries, and Case still missed on 22 of his 37 pass attempts.

The offense failed to generate a touchdown for the first time all season, and two of the three field goals it produced were set up by monster pass-interference penalties of 54 and 42 yards.

Take away those gifts, and the offense crossed midfield only three times.

Sure, there were mitigating circumstances. One starting offensive tackle, Harry Swayne, didn't play at all, and the other, Jonathan Ogden, left with an injury early in the first quarter. That was a huge loss, simultaneously damaging the run blocking and pass protection. It was no wonder the Titans blitzed like crazy.

Also in Case's defense, he laid a catchable touchdown pass right in Patrick Johnson's hands in the second quarter, and Johnson dropped it.

Case still played with a lot of heart and could have pulled off another dramatic rally at the end with some help, but Qadry Ismail failed to get out of bounds on the last play, and Billick had burned a timeout making an instant replay challenge of a call that wasn't going to be overturned. So much for drama.

But hey, the game never should have come down to the end on a day when the Titans committed penalty after penalty, giving the Ravens more than enough chances. The Titans held, tripped, jumped offside, committed personal fouls and seemed to invent ways to draw flags as the game wore on. They broke a record for penalty yards in a game set by the Cleveland Browns in 1951.

How did the Ravens waste the chance? Well, for starters, Case completed only two of 10 passes in the third quarter. The offense came to a virtual standstill, going almost 24 minutes without generating a first down via the run or pass.

"There are some things I'd like to have back," Case said.

The Ravens had better get used to trying to score against such stacked defenses, because teams obviously are going to play them that way until Case proves he can make the defenses pay.

"We didn't do some things well [on offense] that we'd done well the past few weeks," Billick said. The Titans "gave us enough opportunities and field position, but we didn't capitalize. It leaves a bitter taste."

It should. Titans coach Jeff Fisher said, "We won, but we've got to stop playing like this. It seemed like we had every kind of penalty known to man out there today. I'm elated with the win but really disappointed with the play."

How do you lose to a coach so disgusted by his team?

Leave it to the Ravens.

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