Stover on the mark

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Baltimore Ravens veteran Matt Stover has seen everything and done nearly everything in his long NFL career, but Saturday night was special. Stover lined up with 53 seconds left and drilled a 43-yard field goal to give the Ravens their 13-10 victory over the Tennessee Titans in an AFC divisional playoff at LP Field.

"I've never had a game-winner in the playoffs," said Stover, who has converted 14 game-winning kicks in 19 NFL seasons.

Stover, who'd like to celebrate his 41st birthday in Tampa on Jan. 27, preparing for the Super Bowl, didn't begin 2008 well.

"I felt like I had a rough start to the season," Stover said.

He missed three of his first seven field goals attempts, including a key miss in the 13-10 Baltimore loss to Tennessee on Oct. 5.

"It cost us when the game really counted," Stover said.

After that loss, the whispers began. With a new coach, perhaps the Stover show would finally close in Baltimore. It didn't matter that Stover had been through this before. In 1999, when Brian Billick arrived, Stover also started the season by missing three of seven.

"You have to roll with it and let it go as quickly as you can," Stover said.

After the Ravens' loss to the Titans three months back, Stover started streaking. He finished the season by converting 23 of his 26 final field goals and adding two more last week in Miami. He's played for a Super Bowl winner, but this was special.

"I would say this would be the No. 1," Stover said. The deeply religious man added a footnote: "We want to be humble about that."

Added wide receiver Derrick Mason: "That's what playing in the NFL for 40 years gets you."

RYAN UPDATE: Highly-regarded Ravens defensive coordinator Rex Ryan will interview for the New York Jets' and St. Louis Rams' head coaching vacancies today in Baltimore.

Ryan is scheduled to meet with Jets team owner Woody Johnson and general manager Mike Tannenbaum, and will be the seventh candidate to interview for a vacancy created by Eric Mangini's firing.

The six others that have already been interviewed, includes Jets offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer and assistant head coach Bill Callahan, New York Giants defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, former Boston College coach Jeff Jagodzinski, Arizona Cardinals assistant head coach Russ Grimm and Indianapolis Colts defensive coordinator Ron Meeks.

The son of former NFL head coach Buddy Ryan, Ryan is scheduled to meet with the Rams after his Jets interview.

When he does, he'll see a familiar face as Rams general manager Billy Devaney was on the Atlanta Falcons' search committee that nearly hired Ryan last year before opting for Mike Smith.

Ryan's dance card is filling up rapidly. The Detroit Lions have demonstrated some interest in Ryan, too.

Promoted to assistant head coach prior to this season, Ryan has taken on added duties this season while orchestrating the NFL's second-ranked defense.

"I think I'm twice as prepared this year for the opportunity to become a head coach than I was last year," Ryan said a few days before kickoff. "I'm going to be myself, and hopefully it's good enough for somebody. If not, then I'll stay here and coach this defense like I've been doing."

KOKINIS UPDATE: With reports swirling that Ravens director of pro personnel George Kokinis may be having second thoughts about the Cleveland Browns' general manager vacancy and is leaning toward staying in Baltimore, he's still scheduled for an interview with Browns owner Randy Lerner as soon as today.

"If George Kokinis is the right guy, he's getting hired," Lerner told Cleveland reporters.

However, Lerner added that he hasn't made up his mind yet about Kokinis and won't hire him right away.

"I'm not rubber-stamping anything," Lerner said.

Kokinis, 41, is close friends with new Browns coach Eric Mangini, but turned down at least two chances to join Mangini with his previous employer, the New York Jets, because the job didn't have final authority over all football operations.

For Kokinis to be allowed to accept the position, he would need contractual language asserting that he's the boss over all personnel matters.

Kokinis is a hard-working, behind-the-scenes type known for his late hours at the Ravens' training complex. He has some contract negotiating experience and has a background as a college scout dating back to the franchise's days in Cleveland and during the Ravens' early years in Maryland.

He acts as Baltimore general manager Ozzie Newsome's chief lieutenant in the scouting department.

With New England Patriots executive Scott Pioli, Atlanta Falcons president Rich McKay and Philadelphia Eagles general manager Tom Heckert withdrawing their names from consideration, that leaves Kokinis as the frontrunner for former Ravens executive Phil Savage's old job.

The other candidates currently being mentioned are Browns director of player personnel and former Ravens scout T.J. McCreight, Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio, former Houston Texans and Washington Redskins general manager Charlie Casserly, former Denver Broncos general manager Ted Sundquist and Indianapolis Colts vice president of football operations Chris Polian.

INJURY REPORT: Outside linebacker Terrell Suggs strained his right shoulder while sacking Kerry Collins in the second quarter.

He was down on the ground for a few minutes before struggling to the sidelines while holding his right arm against his body and didn't return.

However, the Pro Bowl defender guaranteed he would play in next week's AFC title game. He has never missed a game.

"Check my track record. I don't miss games," Suggs said. "The only way I wouldn't be there is if I didn't have air in my lungs."

Suggs repeatedly said: "I'm playing. It's nothing. What did I tell you? I don't even feel it now."

Strong safety Jim Leonhard suffered a concussion toward the end of the game on his big hit on tight end Alge Crumpler and didn't return. Afterward, Leonhard spoke coherently.

Cornerback Samari Rolle left the game with a groin injury and didn't return.

Offensive tackle Willie Anderson left the game in the first quarter with a shoulder stinger, and it was painful enough that he was visibly wincing as he staggered off the field.

Anderson returned to the game after being replaced briefly at right tackle by Adam Terry. Running back Le'Ron McClain left the game briefly with an ankle injury, but returned.

"I just told the trainer give me whatever, tape it up," he said. "I wasn't coming out of the game. That last drive, I wanted to finish strong and do anything I could to help the team."

FAR FROM HOME: It's been an expensive weekend for Mark Hardy.

The Westminster resident decided he just had to see the Ravens on Saturday. After last Sunday's win over Miami, Hardy and a friend began making plans for the trip to Nashville.

He spent $800 on plane tickets, secured hotel rooms and then began scouring Craigslist for tickets. Hardy scored two club level seats on the 25-ard line for $490—about a 30-percent markup over face value.

Hardy, who said he hadn't been to a Ravens road game in many years, estimates the weekend will set him back about $3,000.

His wife agreed to his sojourn. It was she who forced him to forego season tickets.

"She gave me an option: a brand-new truck or give up the season tickets."

Hardy, who has two children, agreed, but it hurt.

"I love the Ravens. I love football," he said.

WHO CARES? While the Ravens will undoubtedly be glued to their televisions this afternoon for the San Diego-Pittsburgh game, they said they had no preference.

"Whoever is the next team we face, we'll go in there with confidence," Todd Heap said.

Offensive coordinator Cam Cameron, who used to coach in San Diego, didn't care, either.

"Absolutely not. We're just thrilled that we have an opportunity to keep getting better," Cameron said. "I'm sure we'll find out who we play tomorrow."

QUICK HITS: The Ravens' inactives were wide receiver Terrance Copper, cornerback Evan Oglesby, running back Jalen Parmele, linebacker Antwan Barnes (chest), linebacker Robert McCune and offensive tackles Oniel Cousins and David Hale. Todd Bouman was the third quarterback. The only notable Titan to miss the game was center Kevin Mawae (right elbow). … The Ravens and Titans have played three times in the postseason, and the visiting team has won all three. … The Ravens' game captains were middle linebacker Ray Lewis, punter Sam Koch, special-teams ace Brendon Ayanbadejo and former Titans in Mason, cornerback Samari Rolle and fullback Lorenzo Neal.

Baltimore Ravens' report card

Quarterback: C-plus

Rookie quarterback Joe Flacco was inaccurate for the majority of the game, completing 11 of 22 passes for 161 yards, but engineered a textbook game-winning drive in the clutch. His top play was a well-orchestrated 48-yard bomb to Derrick Mason for a touchdown in the first half to tie the game.

Running back: D-plus

The running game absolutely disappeared against a stout defense as they averaged an anemic 1.7 yards per carry with 50 rushing yards on 30 carries. Le'Ron McClain injured his ankle, but gamely returned to action. It was tough sledding overall.

Receiver: C-plus

Derrick Mason was the primary threat, catching a deep touchdown pass to finish with five receptions for 78 yards. Mark Clayton's acrobatic 37-yard reception set up a game-tying field goal and tight end Todd Heap, playing with a bad back, had a key 23-yard catch to set up the game-winning kick.

Offensive line: C-plus

Against a blue-chip Titans defensive line headlined by Albert Haynesworth, Kyle Vanden Bosch and Jevon Kearse, they didn't allow a sack. Their run-blocking was less than superb, though.

Defensive line: C-plus

As the game wore on, they bottled up the Titans' running game after a poor first half. There wasn't enough pressure, though, on quarterback Kerry Collins. He was only sacked once, and passed for 281 yards. They were too quiet upfront despite the absence of Pro Bowl center Kevin Mawae

Linebacker: B

They were fortunate that speedy Titans rookie running back Chris Johnson (11 carries, 72 yards) didn't return from a sprained ankle, but made significant plays in the second half. Middle linebacker Ray Lewis had a crushing hit on fullback Ahmard Hall and linebacker Bart Scott and Lewis had 11 tackles apiece. Linebacker Terrell Suggs left the game with a strained shoulder after recording one sack.

Secondary: C-plus

Cornerback Samari Rolle picked off Kerry Collins once, but Collins completed 26 of 42 passes for 281 yards as Rolle got picked on by imposing Titans receiver Justin Gage. Strong safety Jim Leonhard was extremely aggressive with a forced fumble and a fumble recovery. Ed Reed was avoided in a rare game without an interception.

Special teams: A-minus.

Kicker Matt Stover nailed a 43-yard field goal in the final minute to win the game on his first playoff game-winning field goal, hitting a 21-yarder earlier in the fourth quarter. Punter Sam Koch averaged 42.8 yards on eight punts, downing two inside the 20-yard line. Jim Leonhard had a 29-yard punt return.


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