You can call them ugly or lucky, but call the Ravens winners, too

ON THE RAVENS

Ravens 27 Titans 26

Ravens Gameday

November 13, 2006|By MIKE PRESTON

Nashville, Tenn. -- The Ravens are supposed to be searching for an identity in the second half of the season, but they've already found one. They're simply winners.

You can call them a good team or a lucky one, and most of the time they're downright ugly, but the Ravens keep finding ways to win. Yesterday, they gave up 117 rushing yards in the first half, had four unsportsmanlike conduct penalties and trailed by nine points at the half, but still came back to defeat the Tennessee Titans, 27-26.

It's too early to start calling them a team of destiny, but things keep falling into place. They pulled out ugly wins against Cleveland and San Diego earlier this season, and even saw two deflected passes turn into touchdowns to receiver Mark Clayton in a loss against Carolina.

The Ravens aren't a running team or a passing team. They have a good defense but are far from overwhelming, especially in the secondary. Somehow, though, they do enough to win.

"That's what championship teams do, find ways to win," Ravens outside linebacker Bart Scott said.

There were a lot of crazy plays yesterday. One that stood out was the apparent fumble by Ravens running back Mike Anderson in the third quarter. Clearly it was a fumble recovered by Tennessee at the Ravens' 36, but the officials ruled Anderson was down by contact.

Another was Titans quarterback Vince Young being taken out of the game after hitting his head on the ground after a 17-yard scramble to the Ravens' 31 with 56 seconds left in the game. Young didn't return to the game, and the Titans ran on their next three plays before Trevor Pryce blocked Rob Bironas' 43-yard field-goal attempt.

"Come on, you shouldn't be in the league if you can't hit that one," Scott said. "That's nothing. I'll take Matt Stover in that situation over anybody, even with no blocking."

And with the Ravens' luck, he'd probably make it.

Bad vibes

Yesterday's game was extremely similar to the AFC divisional game in January 2001, when the Ravens defeated the Titans, 24-10. On that day, Titans kicker Al Del Greco missed three field-goal attempts, including two that were blocked, one of which was returned 90 yards for a touchdown.

Bironas missed two yesterday, and was wide right on a 38-yard attempt that didn't count because Ravens cornerback Chris McAlister was offside, giving the Titans a first down.

"I had a bad feeling about that last one, like I knew it was going to be blocked," said Frank Wycheck, a former Titans tight end who played in that playoff game and is now a sports talk show host in Nashville. "It was being played out here all over again."

Big second half

The Ravens gave up 267 yards of offense and 26 points in the first half. The Titans didn't do anything spectacular, but they did use Young on sprintouts, rollouts and bootlegs so he only had to read half the field.

In the second half, Ravens defensive coordinator Rex Ryan made the proper adjustments, and the Titans were held to 100 yards of offense in the final two quarters.

The Ravens just simplified their defensive packages. They didn't move a lot of players around near the line of scrimmage and just brought most of the pressure off the edge to help contain Young.

Anger management

The Ravens had four unsportsmanlike conduct penalties, including one against McAlister for a head butt and another against coach Brian Billick for apparently saying something to an official. What is this, pro wrestling?

The officials started to lose control of the game in the second quarter, but the Ravens can't afford to have those dumb penalties. You can overcome such poor behavior against bad teams, but the Ravens are going to need more self-control and discipline against the good ones.

By the way, wasn't McAlister supposed to be taking anger management classes? And, while on the subject of Billick, he apparently is still sensitive about fans and media who criticized his clock management last week against the Cincinnati Bengals.

He appeared to pat himself on the back for calling three straight timeouts on Tennessee's last drive and would have had about 39 seconds left if the Titans had made the field goal.

Yippee!

Young and McNair

Young played well for the Titans, completing 13 of 25 passes for 211 yards. He still has trouble finding his touch on short passes and trips over his feet a lot. But he made some really strong throws. He also showed that he could improvise, making passes on the run and at other times running for key first downs.

As for Steve McNair, he has shown that he can elevate the Ravens from a bad team to a good team, but still needs to prove he can beat quality teams consistently.

There are times when he just makes stupid mistakes - like stepping out of the back of the end zone for a safety - and each week he throws a pass that should be picked off and easily returned for a touchdown.

Run defense?

The Ravens allowed Travis Henry to rush for 107 yards on 27 carries. They will point out that they were without star middle linebacker Ray Lewis, but that's not an excuse.

They need to take a hard look at the defensive line because physically they got smacked around by the Titans.

One big disappointment was rookie tackle Haloti Ngata, who spent a lot of time on the ground in the first half.

mike.preston@baltsun.com

Read Mike Preston's Ravens Central blog at www.baltimoresun.com/ravenscentral.

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