Defensive Ravens go on attack

Buildup for Round 3 vs. Titans becomes heated affair already

Adams: Best `D' will win

Prior win at Adelphia is `huge' mental edge

January 02, 2001|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,SUN STAFF

Twice wasn't enough. The rivalry between the Ravens and the Tennessee Titans will get a third tweak this weekend, and it's bound to bring out some simmering hostility.

Ravens wide receiver Patrick Johnson, front and center.

"I don't like the Titans," he said yesterday. "Never have.

"They're a good team. You've got to give them credit. They're the AFC champs. [But] they're just a lot of hype."

If familiarity breeds contempt, there could be some intriguing crossfire before Sunday's AFC divisional playoff game at Nashville's Adelphia Coliseum. The Ravens (13-4) finished second to the Titans (13-3) in the AFC Central Division and in the NFL's total defense rankings.

That was after spending eight straight weeks as the league's total defense leader.

Ouch.

"They were No. 1 in total yardage, let's get that straight," said Ravens Pro Bowl defensive tackle Sam Adams. "We had less points scored on us. I think the best defense is the one going to the Super Bowl."

The Ravens already were building an edge for Tennessee yesterday, just 24 hours after mugging the Denver Broncos, 21-3, in the wild-card round. Coach Brian Billick understands the psychological warfare that is about to be waged.

"There's going to be the typical chest-thumping and posturing that you have to do when you go in; that's fun as well," he said. "But there's a huge amount of respect on both sides.

"It's interesting to be in a rivalry like this because sometimes there's some animosities built up, very typically, and you see it manifest itself in a game and afterward. But I haven't seen that with this group of athletes, the Titans or my group. They really respect one another."

Billick himself may unwittingly have fanned the flames of that rivalry last week when he told the CBS-TV broadcast team of Greg Gumbel and Phil Simms that the winner of Sunday's Denver-Baltimore game will go to the Super Bowl.

He was slightly less provocative yesterday, however.

"If you can find a team playing on Sunday that doesn't think they can go to the Super Bowl, there's your scoop right there," he said. "The [difficult] part of that proclamation was if we lost, could Denver do it? That's where I was sticking my neck out. And I believed it, because they're a capable football team.

"So that wasn't braggadocio or arrogant. That's a healthy respect for a Denver team that has a great deal of experience."

There is a building consensus - at least in Baltimore and Nashville - that Sunday's winner will go to the Super Bowl as the AFC representative.

The Ravens aren't oblivious to such talk.

"I think we believe we're the best team," said All-Pro left tackle Jonathan Ogden. "Obviously, Tennessee believes they're the best. People probably will say the winner of this game is favored to go to the Super Bowl."

The Ravens-Titans series is a study in tight, tense football. Five of the past seven games have been decided by four points or fewer. Only one of those seven games - Baltimore's 41-14 blowout in 1999 - was decided by more than eight points.

Overall, the Titans lead the series 6-4. But the Ravens scored a major coup in Week 11 when they dealt Tennessee its first - and only - loss at Adelphia in two years. A 2-yard touchdown toss from quarterback Trent Dilfer to Johnson supplied the winning points, but the Ravens had to sweat a wide-right, 43-yard field-goal attempt by Al Del Greco at the end.

"They don't have their `We never lost at home' thing over us," Adams said. "That's something we don't have to deal with."

Dilfer called it a "huge" advantage to have beaten the Titans at the site of Sunday's game. He likened it to Tampa Bay's inability to win at Green Bay in the NFC Central.

"Tampa can't beat Green Bay because they never have there," said Dilfer, who spent six seasons with the Buccaneers. "I know that's the craziest thing, but you can't beat them until you do.

"So now you feel like that's not a roadblock [at Tennessee]. There's no mental gymnastics, no mental barrier you have to get over. You simply know you've just got to go play football, and you don't have to deal with anything else."

Dilfer, who said he still felt sore from the concussion he suffered Sunday, completed 30 of 49 passes (61.2 percent) for 339 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions in five quarters against the Titans this season. He replaced Tony Banks in the fourth quarter of a 14-6 loss on Oct. 22 at PSINet Stadium.

"Certain teams you match up well against in certain phases, certain teams you don't," he said. "I think we match up very well against Tennessee. They know that, we know that. It comes down to making plays."

Said Adams: "I enjoy watching those cats play. They're physical, technically sound and find ways to win. We match up well because we play the same style of football."

Game data

Ravens (13-4) at Tennessee (13-3)

Where: Adelphia Coliseum, Nashville, Tenn.

When: Sunday, 12:30 p.m.

TV/Radio: Chs. 13, 9/WJFK (1300 AM), WLIF (101.9 FM)

Line: Titans by 5 1/2

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