Ravens always seem to have something special for Titans

Big plays on special teams have hurt Tenn. in series

Ravens / Titans

Afc Wild - Card Game

December 31, 2003|By Brent Jones | Brent Jones,SUN STAFF

The Ravens-Tennessee Titans series has featured crucial missed field-goal tries, blocked punts returned for touchdowns, a blocked field-goal try returned for a touchdown and a 76-yard kickoff return.

To the chagrin of the Titans, most of those plays have come at their expense.

The Ravens carry a five-game winning streak over Tennessee into Saturday's playoff game at M&T Bank Stadium, and two of the games were essentially decided by game-changing special teams plays that went the Ravens' way.

Ravens special teams coordinator Gary Zauner does not necessarily think the Ravens have a mental advantage, though.

"I don't know about a mental edge," Zauner said. "I think it just comes down to, in the playoffs, in big games, the elite players step up and make plays. I don't think it has anything to do with body language or special teams karma."

The Titans should be glad to hear that. From Keith Washington's blocked field-goal try, returned 90 yards by Anthony Mitchell for a go-ahead touchdown in the playoff game three years ago, to Ed Reed's blocked punt and return for the Ravens' only touchdown last season, the special teams' blunders always seem to fall on the Titans.

Former Tennessee kicker Al Del Greco had another field-goal try blocked and hit the crossbar on a third attempt in that playoff game. All three of Del Greco's failed tries would have given the Titans the lead, something Ravens coach Brian Billick could find humor in yesterday.

Asked jokingly about the prospect of Del Greco re-signing with the Titans for this game, Billick said, "We'll pay for it."

Billick went on to talk about his team's tendency for big plays on special teams against Tennessee. Some of the other highlights include a 76-yard kickoff return by Jermaine Lewis in a Monday night Ravens win at Adelphia Coliseum, and a string of nine straight converted field goals by Ravens kicker Matt Stover.

The lone Titans highlight came during the Oct. 7, 2002 game, when cornerback Donald Mitchell blocked a punt and returned it 26 yards for a touchdown. The impact of that play, though, was negligible, as the Titans were already down 20-0 at that point and went on to lose, 26-7.

"You're talking about blocked punts, kickoff returns, punt returns," Billick said. "As has been the case all year long, special teams is a key part to what we do, and I can't imagine it not being part of what we do this weekend."

It was part of a Ravens' failure in Sunday's 13-10 overtime win over the Pittsburgh Steelers. In a play that would only happen when a team has nothing on the line, the Steelers faked a punt from their own 19-yard line and wound up with an 81-yard touchdown as Chris Hope took punter Josh Miller's pass and weaved through the Ravens' defense.

The Steelers took advantage of an aggressive punt-blocking unit on a play which, indirectly, may adversely affect the Titans.

"We as a unit will just correct the mistake and move on," said Reed, who almost always rushes the punter. "They weren't going to the playoffs. It was fourth-and-one and they faked a punt from the 20-yard line. If they are going to the playoffs, you think Coach [Bill] Cowher makes that play?

"Good job. We thank Pittsburgh for doing that because we are prepared now."

The Ravens say they will be more aware of such trickery but not more cautious in their approach.

"Is it going to make me less aggressive? No," Zauner said. "For the last eight weeks, I've been waiting for someone to run a play like that because I know what our tendency is. I had a safer call on, but they just had the [guts] to call it.

"In my 10 years in the NFL, that is the first fake that has ever worked against me on a punt. There has been only one fake field goal that the Green Bay Packers ran [when Zauner was in Minnesota], and it was probably a bad call by me."

Despite their past special teams success against the Titans, the Ravens aren't depending on that to win Saturday.

"You can't really live on those plays because those were plays we were able to make in those games," linebacker Cornell Brown said. "We hope we can make them now."

Game data

Matchup: Tennessee Titans (12-4) vs. Ravens (10-6)

Site: M&T Bank Stadium

When: Saturday, 4:30 p.m.

TV/Radio: Chs. 2, 7/WJFK (1300 AM), WQSR (102.7 FM)

Line: Even

Series: Ravens lead 8-4

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