Ravens, Titans to resume rivalry

MIAMI -- History is beckoning the Baltimore Ravens again, a case of football déjà-vu that sets up another high-profile grudge match against an old AFC Central rival. Next stop on the Ravens' playoff express: Nashville, Tenn.

From the epic rivalry that brought the NFL classic battles pitting Ray Lewis against Eddie George and Steve McNair, here come the Ravens versus the Tennessee Titans in the second round of the playoffs Saturday.

Now that the Ravens (12-5) have dispatched the Miami Dolphins with a 27-9 triumph Sunday in the opening round of the playoffs, they're set for a rematch in the AFC divisional round against the top-seeded Titans (13-3).

It's the Titans who edged the Ravens, 13-10, earlier this season in Baltimore as a controversial roughing-the-passer penalty on linebacker Terrell Suggs led to a game-winning drive capped by a late touchdown pass from quarterback Kerry Collins to tight end Alge Crumpler.

The Ravens have ambitious designs on winning another Super Bowl, just as they did during the 2000 season after toppling the Titans in the playoffs.

"That's what I've been trying to tell people that would listen, now people are finally listening," defensive coordinator Rex Ryan said. "We know where we're at. We expect to win it all, so we'll see. We know we've got a tough one next week in Tennessee, but we ain't afraid of nobody."

Besides the disputed penalty at the end of the game against the Titans on Oct. 5 at M&T Bank Stadium, the Ravens would also like to exact revenge for a 2004 playoff loss to Tennessee and demonstrate just how much they've improved since the first meeting this season. In the divisional showdown following the 2003 season, the Ravens lost 20-17 on Jan. 3, 2004 as McNair and George led the Titans' cause.

"We think we are a team of divine purpose as long as we can get this thing to snowball," Suggs said. "We have a heavyweight match next week, but we're going to enjoy the win."

Added running back Willis McGahee: "We're a totally different team now. Coach [John] Harbaugh did a great job of bringing us together. We know we got each others' backs."

The Ravens have already launched preparations for the Titans, beginning preliminary plans prior to the Dolphins game in case they advanced. They'll have a short week to contend with while the Titans enjoyed a first-round bye as a division champion with the best record in the league.

"I know some coaches will go right back to the office, others will get some rest and be there in the morning," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "So, immediately on the plane probably."

Since the first game, the Ravens' passing game has improved markedly behind rookie quarterback Joe Flacco, who threw two interceptions against the Titans earlier this year.

"Joe's not a rookie anymore, he's a vet and the rookie season is over," McGahee said. "Right now, we need everyone to be veterans on the team and that's what we're doing. He's showing great leadership, great poise and he's doing smart things with the ball."

Added fullback Le'Ron McClain: "The referee made his call in the first game, but we've got to execute better on offense than we did in that first game. Joe is way different now. We're ready to put in some work. We're a hungry team."

Flacco didn't commit a turnover against the Dolphins.

Afterward, he cited unity as a core reason behind the Ravens winning 10 of their past 12 games.

"We are a family, we are playing for each other," Flacco said. "We want to make everyone feel really good. I have been saying all along, this is one playoff win. We still need to get three more and we all have the confidence to go out there and do it."

Titans coach Jeff Fisher is expecting an extremely difficult matchup.

"Now that we know our opponent, we have a tremendous challenge ahead of us," Fisher said in a statement. "Baltimore has improved in all areas since we saw them earlier this season. They are built around a strong run game and a great defense, which reminds us of the classic matchups against them in the past."

The first game was chippy with the teams combining for 21 penalties for 169 yards, including several personal fouls.

Wide receiver Derrick Mason, who used to play for the Titans as well as cornerback Samari Rolle and fullback Lorenzo Neal, said he'll begin focusing on the Titans very soon.

"I'm not thinking about them right now," Mason said. "I'm going to enjoy this win all the back to Baltimore, and then I'll start preparing for Tennessee."

Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.

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