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PRESTON: Ravens finally show nasty side in win vs. Titans — and it might be turning point

MIKE PRESTON
The Baltimore Sun (TNS)
Baltimore Ravens players sit and stand on the Tennessee Titans' logo at the 50-yard line after Ravens cornerback Marcus Peters intercepted a pass against the Titans late in the fourth quarter of an NFL wild-card playoff football game Sunday, Jan. 10, 2021, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Wade Payne)

The Baltimore Ravens finally showed a nasty side Sunday.

They’ll get some letters and hate mail from fans around the NFL for dancing and celebrating on the Tennessee Titans logo after Marcus Peters’ late interception sealed a 20-13 wild-card-round victory, but I loved it.

This team hasn’t shown that kind of attitude and edge the past three years. This might be a turning point.

“This was an emotional football game, and sometimes you just act out of emotion,” Ravens defensive end Derek Wolfe said. “And I felt like it was a good time to go ahead and do that, so we did it. It wasn’t a disrespect thing. It was more like a team-unity thing; like we accomplished something as a team, so we’re going to go out there and take a little bit of revenge, I guess. But I don’t think it’s a big deal.”

Once Peters intercepted quarterback Ryan Tannehill’s pass with a little less than two minutes remaining, a bunch of the Ravens went to midfield and danced on the Titans logo. Outside linebackers Matthew Judon and Pernell McPhee were holding up their hands as if they were having a praise break in church, and cornerback Anthony Averett and safety DeShon Elliott looked as if they were doing some new, modern shuffle.

When the final whistle sounded, Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson ran into the locker room without shaking hands with the Titans.

Lot of noise coming: The Ravens will hear a lot of noise about it for the next couple of days. Parents will write and complain that it didn’t set a good example for their children. The NFL might even punish the Ravens, who were penalized 15 yards for taunting. But over at The Castle, and in most places in the city, there will be snickers about the Ravens and how they represented good old “Bawlmore.”

If this were just another game, the Ravens would deserve criticism, but the Titans started this mess. They got respect for beating the Ravens in a divisional-round game last year and again earlier this season, but one of their players allegedly spat on guard Marshal Yanda last year and the Titans danced on the Ravens logo in November while taunting coach John Harbaugh.

This was the perfect time to retaliate. Pro football is a physical game and intimidation is as much a part of it as the forward pass. The Titans apparently thought they had won the mind game over the Ravens, but they got a different message Sunday.

Ravens ready to fight: That message wasn’t sent just to Tennessee, but to the rest of the NFL. The postseason is about quarterback play, good players becoming great, and tough guys. The Ravens are ready to fight. Finally.

It wasn’t that way a year ago. The Ravens won 12 straight games to finish the regular season and then got pushed around in the playoffs at home by Tennessee. It was one-and-done. The best thing to happen to this team was to go on the road and beat the Titans in Nashville. It did.

The dancing on the logo was icing on the cake.

“I started the game off rough. I had a rough start. They got up. … They got up early and had some big catches on me and different things,” Ravens cornerback Marlon Humphrey said. “Lamar turned into his MVP self and got us right back in it. That’s the good thing about him; he’s never going to quit. He’s is always going to give it his all.

“Even when he talked to the team last night … Great players, I feel like, [lead] in a lot of different ways. Some of them are very vocal, some of them aren’t very vocal, and some are like Lamar. When he speaks, he speaks volumes. When he speaks, you know he means business.”

Lots of things to like in Baltimore's win: There were so many things to like about this victory. Jackson, to whom the Titans talked so much trash during the game, finally won a playoff game after two years of failure. He wasn’t sensational by typical quarterback standards, but he threw for 179 yards, ran for 136 and had the play of the game with a 48-yard touchdown run in the second quarter that people will be talking about for the next five to 10 years.

The Ravens chewed up the NFL’s top running back, holding Derrick Henry to 40 yards on 18 carries. The Ravens were completely healthy on defense for the first time in nearly a month, and outside linebackers Judon and McPhee dominated the edge.

“Just hit him. Just keep hitting him, keep hitting him and play for 60 minutes,” McPhee said of stopping Henry. “I took it upon myself, whenever they tried to run it to my side, don’t let it get outside of me, set a great edge, and I’ll hit him. I think I did a good job, but it’s on to the next game right now. My mind is on whoever; I’m going to watch some film on whoever is next, Buffalo or Kansas City.”

Complete victory: Despite falling behind 10-0, the Ravens and Jackson didn’t panic as they have in the past. Offensive coordinator Greg Roman stayed with the running game and exploited weaknesses in the Titans secondary with short passes in the flats. That was a great move because it didn’t expose Jackson’s weakness of not being able to throw outside the numbers down the field.

Second-year receiver Marquise Brown finally came up big against a quality team, the Ravens had a long drive late in the fourth quarter that lasted almost six minutes, and the defense came up with the late interception to halt any comeback attempt.

That’s a complete victory. That’s what good teams do. That’s how tough guys finish games. This isn’t to say the Ravens are on their way to the Super Bowl, but at least there are signs that they are contenders and can challenge top teams.

Team had to find an edge: So, if the fallout from dancing on the logo is severe, so be it. If Harbaugh, the coaching staff or the organization get criticized for the celebration, that’s OK, too. The Ravens needed to be involved in a dogfight in the playoffs on the road, and they had to find an edge and some nastiness to overcome it.

They did.

The Titans won’t be dancing on Baltimore’s logo anytime soon.