NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Moments after the game, Ravens quarterback Trent Dilfer laid motionless on the ground with his facemask buried in the grass. Thoughts raced back to his sometimes troubled six-year career with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, where he was the focus of much fan ridicule.
But the nightmare lasted only a few seconds, and then it was back to dreamland, or actually, the Music City, where Dilfer threw a 2-yard touchdown pass to Patrick Johnson with 25 seconds remaining for a stunning 24-23 victory against the Tennessee Titans.
This would have been the perfect time for Dilfer to talk about some sort of redemption in upsetting one of the league's best teams, but instead he talked about working hard. He could have exhibited arrogance, but he chose humility.
Those are intangibles that Dilfer brings to this football team as opposed to a strong arm and a fast 40-yard-dash time. And as of yesterday, he is extremely close to becoming the unquestionable leader of the offense.
"He could have went in the tank when he threw that last pick," said Ravens right guard Mike Flynn of Dilfer's interception, which put the Titans ahead 23-17 with 2:30 left in the game. "But instead, he is in the huddle and telling us it's not over. He is a vocal guy and brings a certain confidence. In the last two weeks, he has been on a roll."
Dilfer is The Man, close to being THE MAN. He completed 23 of 36 passes for 281 yards, and would have gone over the 300-yard mark if the Ravens receivers had not dropped some like the "Trash Heap" gang from a year ago.
Dilfer threw two touchdown passes and led the Ravens on a nine-play, 70-yard drive in the final 2:30 that produced the Titans' first home loss ever Adelphia Coliseum in 13 games, and also erased some speculation that he was a loser.
This Dilfer is a lot more mature than the one in Tampa Bay, and a lot different than the one in the Ravens' preseason camps that was indecisive and still learning the offense.
He is like a young Jim Harbaugh, complete with the mediocre arm, scrappy attitude and some ugly throws. How ugly? As offensive tackle Harry Swayne walked by Dilfer in the shower, he kidded him about yesterday's ugly win. Dilfer shot back: "I never said they were going to be pretty, but we'll take them."
At this point of the season, it will be hard for Dilfer to lose the starting job to Tony Banks. The Ravens (7-4) are 2-1 with him as a starter with two straight wins, and playing with a lot of confidence.
With Tennessee out of the way, the Ravens have a fairly easy schedule with remaining games against Dallas, Cleveland, San Diego, Arizona and the New York Jets.
Can we now seriously mention the p-word?
If Dilfer leads them there, it would be one of the best comeback stories in the league, from being run out of one town to being the toast of another.
"What I've learned from playing this game is that you never let circumstances around you affect what you do," Dilfer said. "You have to keep fighting. I'm from the old school. You play as hard as you can until you die out there. You leave everything on the field. I can't believe something this good happened to me. It's been such a long time."
Dilfer could have easily quit yesterday. On a day when he was hot, some of his receivers were cold. Johnson dropped a 33-yard pass at the Tennessee 45 with 7:45 left in the second quarter. Receiver Qadry Ismail dropped a 20-yard pass around midfield with 5:52 left in the third period, and fellow receiver Brandon Stokley short-armed a 9-yard pass on a third-and-two that would have given the team a first down at the Titans' 35 about 90 seconds later.
Those drops would have solicited some tough words from quarterbacks like Jim Kelly or Dan Marino. That's not Dilfer's style.
"He is always saying the play is over, get the next one, get the next one, or you owe me one," Johnson said. "He is so optimistic, maybe because he has been through so much. He won't ever quit."
The low point for Dilfer yesterday came with 2:30 left in the game. That's when Dilfer tried to force a pass to Johnson on a slant in from the left side, but Dilfer failed to read safety Perry Phenix, who had slid off double coverage on the inside receiver, then bounced outside to pick off Dilfer's pass and returned it 87 yards down the right sideline for a touchdown and a 23-17 Titans lead.
"I've been a sucker on that play a couple of times in my career," Dilfer said. "You do stupid things every once in a while, but it's not about mistakes. It's about overcoming them."
Left offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden said: "After that play, it's all in the back of our minds that we might lose to this team again. But he comes into the huddle and says we got time, let's take it down and score. He had already forgotten about it."
And then he leads the Ravens on the game-winning drive. It was Harbaugh-like, Dilfer rolling right or Dilfer scrambling to gain more time. He eluded the rush and threw a 14-yard pass to Priest Holmes on a second-and-19 from the Ravens' 25 with 1:45 left. On the next play, he rolled right and lofted a 36-yard pass to tight end Shannon Sharpe down to the Titans' 29.
Three plays after a pass interference call against the Titans put the Ravens at the 2-yard line, Dilfer found Johnson in the front of the end zone, as Johnson was barely able to get both feet down.
There was some suspense left with Titans kicker Al Del Greco's field-goal attempt sailing wide right as time expired. That's when Dilfer fell to the ground for a few moments.
"I think it was a special moment the team, the franchise, our offense and especially him, in a whole lot of ways," Ogden said.