The Washington Post

NFL playoffs



The Baltimore Ravens avenged last year’s loss to the Tennessee Titans as the first round of the postseason ended with three more games.

There was no top seed in this postseason for the Baltimore Ravens. There will be no repeat league MVP award for quarterbac­k Lamar Jackson. But in a season that has been all about perseveran­ce, Jackson and the Ravens hung in and crafted a playoff breakthrou­gh Sunday.

The first postseason victory of Jackson’s NFL career came as he and the Ravens erased an early deficit and beat the Tennessee Titans, 20-13, in a first-round AFC playoff encounter in Nashville.

“I knew we had the capability of doing that,” Jackson said in a postgame video news conference. “There’s always going to be naysayers no matter what.”

The fifth-seeded Ravens advanced to a conference semifinal next weekend at second-seeded Buffalo. Ravens Coach John Harbaugh, who has a Super Bowl triumph on his résumé, said it might have been the best win with which he has been associated.

“It had so much meaning for our guys and for us together, the things that we’ve been through together this year and how our guys have responded and how our leaders have led and how our guys have stuck together,” Harbaugh said in a postgame video conference.

Jackson had a touchdown on an electrifyi­ng 48-yard dash on a

second-quarter scramble as the Ravens scored 17 straight points after trailing 10- 0.

“That’s one of the best runs I’ve ever seen,” Harbaugh said. “It’s the best run I’ve ever seen by a quarterbac­k. . . . We needed points at that point. It got us back in the game. . . . It made me feel a lot better, I can tell you that.”

Tailback J.K. Dobbins provided a third-quarter touchdown run. Jackson finished with 136 rushing yards, along with 179 passing yards on 17-for-24 accuracy.

Baltimore’s defense did much of the rest. Titans tailback Derrick Henry, coming off the eighth 2,000-yard rushing season in NFL history, ran for only 40 yards on 18 carries.

“It wasn’t good enough,” Titans Coach Mike Vrabel said. “It wasn’t good enough as a team. That’s how it goes sometimes. . . . Nobody let anybody down.”

Defensive end Derek Wolfe said of the Ravens’ approach against Henry: “Physical, physical, physical. Yeah, yeah, yeah.”

Titans quarterbac­k Ryan Tannehill threw a first-quarter touchdown pass to wide receiver A. J. Brown on a fade pattern, leaving the Ravens wishing for an offensive pass interferen­ce call on Brown for a shove of cornerback Marlon Humphrey. Tennessee, the conference’s fourth seed as the AFC South champ, couldn’t reach the end zone otherwise, settling for two field goals by Stephen Gostkowski.

“We won the division, hosted a home playoff game,” Vrabel said. “It wasn’t good enough today.”

The Ravens had been 0-2 in Jackson’s two previous playoff starts. The first loss came to the Los Angeles Chargers at home at the end of the 2018 season, when Jackson was a rookie. That was one thing. Last year’s defeat to the Titans was something else entirely. The Ravens were the AFC’S No. 1 seed. Jackson was about to be named the MVP. But it was the Titans, stunningly, who advanced to last season’s AFC title game, which they lost at Kansas City.

So this game — and this season — was about changing the narrative. Jackson also had been 0- 6 as an NFL starter, including the playoffs, in games in which the Ravens had fallen behind by 10 or more points, according to ESPN.

It was a satisfying victory for the Ravens in so many ways. This also was a rematch of a regular season game won by the Titans, 30-24, in overtime Nov. 22 in Baltimore. That game featured a pregame verbal confrontat­ion between Vrabel and Harbaugh. Vrabel became involved after Harbaugh approached Titans players who were on the Ravens’ midfield logo.

In this game, the Ravens were penalized for taunting for stomping on the Titans’ midfield logo after cornerback Marcus Peters intercepte­d a pass by Tannehill with just less than two minutes remaining. Wolfe said that was meant as a show of team unity by the Ravens, not a disrespect­ful gesture toward the Titans.

“We accomplish­ed something as a team,” Wolfe said.

Justin Tucker provided two field goals for the Ravens, shrugging off a fourth-quarter miss from 52 yards. That miss, according to ESPN, ended a streak of 48 straight successful field goals for Tucker in the fourth quarter and overtime, including the postseason.

Tucker redeemed himself by connecting from 51 yards with just more than four minutes left. The Ravens turned to Tucker after a fourth-and-two conversion on Jackson’s pass to Dobbins was nullified by an offensive pass interferen­ce penalty called on wide receiver Willie Snead IV for light contact on a Titans defender. The call incensed Harbaugh on the Ravens’ sideline.

No matter. The Ravens overcame that. It is becoming a familiar refrain.

This was not a joyride of a regular season for Jackson and the Ravens, as last season had been. Jackson tested positive for the coronaviru­s, and the Ravens had a major outbreak. They played one reschedule­d game on a Tuesday and another on a Wednesday. Just getting into the playoffs was a significan­t chore.

But now they’re advancing, thanks to the come-from-behind grit they demonstrat­ed Sunday and Jackson’s exploits.

“I just locked in even more,” Jackson said. “We just battled.”

 ??  ??
 ?? MARK ZALESKI/ASSOCIATED PRESS ?? Lamar Jackson’s 48-yard touchdown run “got us back in the game,” Ravens Coach John Harbaugh said.
MARK ZALESKI/ASSOCIATED PRESS Lamar Jackson’s 48-yard touchdown run “got us back in the game,” Ravens Coach John Harbaugh said.
 ?? MARK ZALESKI/ASSOCIATED PRESS ?? Lamar Jackson connected with wide receiver Marquise Brown for 109 of his 179 passing yards Sunday.
MARK ZALESKI/ASSOCIATED PRESS Lamar Jackson connected with wide receiver Marquise Brown for 109 of his 179 passing yards Sunday.

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