The 2019 Baltimore Ravens were a great team. They had the best record in the NFL (14-2), the largest point differential (+249), and an MVP-caliber quarterback leading one of the greatest rushing attacks in history. Worryingly, I just used the past tense to praise them. That’s because the Tennessee Titans stuffed the 2020 Baltimore Ravens inside a barrel and shoved them over a waterfall during Saturday’s AFC divisional round. The Titans’ 28-12 win was brutally convincing, and the Ravens were left to pick up fragments of their dream season from the Baltimore turf.
The Ravens hadn’t lost since September and were a strong Super Bowl contender, but they looked like a JV team against the Titans. Who or what is to blame for this stunning capitulation?
1. Nerds. The Ravens are one of the more analytically driven teams in the NFL. As a result, Baltimore is super-aggressive on fourth downs, much to the delight of both number-crunchers and bumpkins like myself who like to scream, “They’re going for it!” at the TV. This strategy worked great all season, and they were 17-for-24 (70.8 percent) on fourth downs, including a perfect 8-for-8 when it was fourth-and-1. Fortune did not favor the bold on Saturday, however, and the Titans stonewalled the Ravens on all four of their fourth-down attempts.
Even worse for Baltimore, the Titans turned two of those momentum-shifting stops into points almost immediately. On the first play after their defense stuffed an attempted conversion in the second quarter, Ryan Tannehill hit Kalif Raymond with a 45-yard bomb to put Tennessee up 14-0.
Analytics experts (read: smart people) will argue that the Ravens were correct in going for it because the odds favored aggressiveness. Heavily intoxicated idiots, meanwhile, will make the polite rejoinder: “Suck on that, dorks!” Both sides make interesting points.
2. Lamar Jackson. Although his postseason ended prematurely, Baltimore’s second-year quarterback still managed to break records on the way out. Against Tennessee, Jackson became the first player in NFL history to throw for more than 300 yards and rush for more than 100 in a playoff game. Add that to his insane regular season (3,127 passing yards, 36 touchdowns, 6 interceptions, 1,206 rushing yards) and it’s hard to paint anything besides a rosy-hued future for the Ravens franchise player. Sadly, his performance on Saturday helped usher in that future a little quicker than planned.
For all his record-setting numbers against the Titans, Jackson made some terrible mistakes. He was responsible for three turnovers, including a back-breaking fumble in the third quarter.
It was just his third lost fumble all year, and it couldn’t have come at a worse time. Speaking of bad timing, he tossed this ball to the other team a few minutes later. Not ideal!
If you notice any increased smog in the next few days, it’ll be because the Lamar Jackson hot-take factory is working overtime. Hopefully the clouds will clear in time to see Jackson, who turned 23 last week, hoist the MVP trophy.
3. Mike Vrabel’s penis. In August, Titans head coach Mike Vrabel appeared on “Bussin’ With the Boys,” a podcast hosted by two of his players, and said he would cut off his penis for a Super Bowl win. He didn’t mention whether he’d actually signed the papers to consummate this Faustian bargain, though there weren’t any follow-up questions. (Leave the podcasting to the professionals, guys.) Either way, I don’t think the Ravens were prepared for this kind of commitment, and Tennessee is now two wins away from hosting history’s first sadomasochistic Super Bowl parade.
4. Tim Tebow. Titans running back Derrick Henry is the star of the NFL postseason. Against the Ravens he ran for 195 yards and became the first player in NFL history to rush for 180-plus yards in three straight games. His best play on Saturday, though, didn’t come on the ground. In the fourth quarter, shortly after another failed Baltimore fourth-down attempt, Henry lined up in the wildcat formation near the goal line. After receiving the snap, he faked the run, leaped, and passed to Corey Davis for a touchdown.
If the move looked familiar, it’s because Tim Tebow made the jump-pass famous while at Florida. It didn’t catch former Gators head coach Urban Meyer unawares.
For Henry to match Tebow’s legacy, he now must strike out 98 times in 239 at-bats for the Syracuse Mets. Good luck, Derrick!
5. Drake. The Raptors were the exception. The Drake curse lives on.
6. The Miami Dolphins. In March, the Dolphins traded their starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill to the Titans for two late-round draft picks. (Miami had to sweeten the deal by adding a sixth-round pick of its own.)
In December, the Dolphins beat New England. The result robbed the Patriots of a postseason bye and forced them to play the Titans during wild-card weekend. Tennessee pulled off an unlikely 20-13 win and set up a date with the heavily favored Ravens in Baltimore, a game where Ryan Tannehill would throw for two touchdowns and rush for another. (Tannehill had just 88 yards through the air, but who’s counting?)
As always, never underestimate the influence of the the NFL’s kingmakers, the Miami Dolphins.
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