Ravens Defense Saves Game, No Miracle For Titans

Monday night marked the final time that the Ravens and the Titans would play as divisional rivals. And what the Baltimore and Tennessee fans -- and the entire nation -- were treated to was a battle of defenses that came right down to the final play. And for a moment, no one was even sure which play was the final play.

Monday night marked the final time that the Ravens and the Titans would play as divisional rivals.

And it was most certainly a memorable one.

No, tight end Shannon Sharpe didn't break Ozzie Newsome's all-time reception mark for tight ends (although he did tie it). And no, Eddie George didn't break the Ravens defense's streak of keeping opposing running backs under 100 yards (he had 71 yards on 21 carries). Elvis Grbac didn't come out of his injury-imposed rest to light up the scoreboard at Adelphia Stadium either.

What the Baltimore and Tennessee fans -- and the entire nation -- were treated to was a battle of defenses that came right down to the final play. And for a moment, no one was even sure which play was the final play.

Was it Steve McNair's quarterback sneak with the final three seconds ticking off that resulted in a Titans touchdown? Or was it the Steve McNair quarterback sneak that was repelled first by the Ravens' interior line and ended by Jamie Sharper and Corey Harris?

When the confusion had settled, it was the latter play that counted, allowing the Ravens to escape with their third consecutive win at Adelphia Stadium by a score of 16-10.

The first half was dominated by both team's defenses, resulting in a punt-fest that sent both teams to their locker rooms knotted in a scoreless draw. During the first quarter, neither team moved the ball well enough to get any deeper than the opponent's 39-yard line. The second quarter was largely consumed by a 17-play drive by the Titans that took almost 9 minutes off the clock. But it stalled at the Ravens' 30, forcing Titans kicker Joe Nedney to attempt a 48-yard field goal that sailed wide left.

Ravens quarterback Elvis Grbac (15-27-192-1, 1 TD) then tried to force a pass to TE Shannon Sharpe and was intercepted by linebacker Keith Bulluck, setting the Titans up at their own 48 with over three minutes remaining. The Titans moved the ball to the 6-yard line before Nedney nailed a 24-yard field goal attempt with just seconds left in the half. But a holding call took the points off the board, and Nedney never got the chance to kick the 34-yarder on the next play due to a bad snap that resulted in a mad scramble and a desperate pass attempt that was intercepted in the endzone by Ravens cornerback Duane Starks.

The Ravens handed the Titans another golden opportunity early in the 3rd quarter when punter Kyle Richardson mishandled a snap that slipped through his fingers and rolled almost into his own endzone. Richardson desperately tossed the ball to Anthony Mitchell, who moved the ball to the 8-yard line before being tackled.

On a 3rd-and-7, linebacker Jamie Sharper (11 tackles) sacked Titans quarterback Steve McNair (27-48-256, 1 TD) to force Tennessee to settle for a 27-yard field goal and a 3-0 lead.

Kick returner Jermaine Lewis provided a much-needed spark on the ensuing kickoff, scampering 76 yards to the Titans' 16-yard line. But the offense sputtered, leaving Matt Stover to kick the game-tying field goal from 31 yards out, extending Stover's consecutive games with a field goal to a league leading 35 games.

The Titans responded by attempting passes on every play of their next drive except for one. And despite another sack by Sharper, the Titans moved the ball to the Baltimore 22 before McNair found Kevin Dyson for the first touchdown of the night, giving the Titans a 10-3 lead with 2:29 left in the third.

The Ravens offense responded with a charging drive of their own, needing just 5 plays to cover 85 yards. The big play was a 57-yard catch and run play from Grbac to Qadry Ismail (8-129, 1 TD) down the right sideline with just 5 seconds remaining in the third quarter.

The two rivals entered the 4th period deadlocked at 10.

Eddie George offered up a parting gift to the Ravens on the next Titans possession when he fumbled at his own 18 following a hit by MLB Ray Lewis. LB Peter Boulware recovered the fumble, setting up another Matt Stover field goal -- this time from 33-yards out to put the Ravens up 13-10.

After holding the Titans to three-downs-and-out, the Ravens ate up over 5 minutes of the final period with a controlled drive that included Sharpe's two catches of the night, allowing him to tie Ozzie Newsome for the all-time receptions record for a tight end. But running back Jason Brookins (14-57) provided the big play of the drive -- a 25-yard run off the right tackle to set the Ravens up at the Titans' 27.

Matt Stover was called in to kick a 30-yard field goal with just over 3 minutes left. Stover nailed it to give the Ravens a 16-10 lead.

From that point on, McNair attempted to pass on every down until the final play of the game. He was sacked once during the final drive, this time by Boulware. But the Titans successfully moved the ball to the Ravens' 6-yard line at the 14-second mark.

Then it was deja vu all over again. Kevin Dyson caught a pass just outside of the goal line -- just as he had done in the Super Bowl two years ago on the final play against the Rams -- and was denied the score by Jamie Sharper with a slight assist by Duane Starks.

With the clock ticking down, the Titans scrambled to get lined up. Peter Boulware may have saved the win for the Ravens as he touched McNair as he went through the line trying to get in place before the snap of the ball. By doing so, he negated McNair's quick snap quarterback sneak which had seemingly tied the game with no time remaining. But since Boulware's encroachment involved touching another player, the play had to be blown dead before McNair could run the play.

So after great contoversy, the Titans lined up with no running back in the backfield and four receivers inside the 1-yard line. McNair kept the ball and ran straight ahead, but Tony Siragusa and Sam Adams made sure that there was no place to run. Michael McCrary began to break through to McNair's left, forcing him to bounce off the backs of his offensive linemen and to the right. But as he moved towards the goal line, Corey Harris made initial contact with him, followed by a hit by Jamie Sharper that put him down for good -- and shy of the goal line.

"We knew the quarterback sneak was coming on the last play," said Tony Siragusa. "Marvin (Lewis) did a great job of calling the Max Blitz, so we were just bringing everybody. When I saw him come to the line of scrimmage, I saw Steve (McNair) go and look over to the right, so we all shifted over to the right a little bit, and the rest is history."

For the second week in a row, the Ravens lost the game in practically every statistical category, but emerged the victor -- largely due to the effort by the defense and special teams.

The defense registered six sacks (Sharper 3, Siragusa 2, Boulware 1), an interception (Starks), and a fumble recovery (Boulware) while Jermaine Lewis' huge 76-yard return and Matt Stover's 3 field goals helped put enough points on the board to propel the Ravens to a 6-3 record in the AFC Central.

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