- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 24, 2002

OWINGS MILLS, Md. The Baltimore Ravens have spoiled a couple of Sunday afternoons for folks in Nashville the last few seasons.
Two years ago, the Ravens were the first team to defeat the Tennessee Titans in the Coliseum, where the Titans had a 12-0 home record over two seasons. Later that year, the Ravens beat the defending AFC champions again at home in a divisional playoff game.
Including the playoffs, the Ravens have beaten the Titans in four straight and five of the last six games. The AFC South-leading Titans (6-4) will look to end their recent run of futility today when the rivals meet at Ravens Stadium.
"We've cost them some things," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "[My] first year [as coach in 1999], we cost them home-field advantage in the playoffs. The second year we were the first ones to beat them at their stadium and then knocked them out of the playoffs. Last year we caught them a couple times and helped send their season [7-9] in a certain direction. That's what creates rivalries, when you have that kind of success."
After starting this season 1-4, the Titans are one of the league's hottest teams. They've won five straight, joining the St. Louis Rams as the NFL's hottest teams.
"We had some injuries earlier in the year that we would have liked to think that we would have overcome, but we didn't," Titans coach Jeff Fisher said of his team's tremendous turnaround. "Not that that is an excuse, but it is a contributing factor.
"The big thing for us is that we've protected the football. The last four or five weeks, our takeaway/giveaway ratio is a plus-seven. That's really the difference. We're not hurting ourselves like we did early in the season with foolish mistakes, penalties, or missed assignments. By no means are we anywhere close to reaching our potential."
Titans star running back Eddie George is looking to rewrite the franchise's record book at the Ravens' expense. If George rushes for 65 yards today, he will surpass Earl Campbell (8,574 yards) as the franchise's leading rusher. If George gains 88, he will pass Green Bay Packers legend Jim Taylor (8,597 yards) for 20th place on the NFL's all-time list.
George's quest for the team's rushing record may be aided by injuries to Ravens starting middle linebackers Ray Lewis and Ed Hartwell. Lewis, a five-time Pro Bowl choice, is listed as questionable with a partially dislocated left shoulder and a calf injury. Hartwell, the Ravens' leading tackler with 93, is questionable with a knee injury. The availability of both will be game-time decisions.
"Everybody knows about mine and Eddie's rivalry it's nothing spectacular, it's nothing new," Lewis said. "It's the same old, same old. I talked to him a couple days ago. It will be exciting if I do play."
If Lewis and Hartwell don't play, veteran Bernardo Harris and rookie free agent Bart Scott will man the middle in the Ravens' 3-4 scheme. The availability of starting cornerback Chris McAlister (ankle) also will be a game-time decision; he has been inactive the last two games.
Offensively, the Ravens losers of three of their past four games would like to establish the run. Jamal Lewis (828 yards on 197 carries, 4.2 average) is tied for sixth in the AFC in rushing with Jacksonville's Fred Taylor.
Lewis certainly has been a bright spot for the Ravens this season, considering that he sat out all of last season with a torn ACL. The Titans' run defense anchored by their front four of Kevin Carter, John Thornton, Henry Ford and Jevon Kearse ranks sixth in the AFC, allowing just 99.9 yards per game.
"I watch their offense and caution our defense about how productive their run game is," Fisher said. "I generally believe this is probably one of the better running offenses that we have faced all year. It's very impressive what they are doing."
Titans quarterback Steve McNair is most likely the X-factor in the game. McNair has a full complement of healthy receivers: Derrick Mason (45 receptions, 628 yards, three TDs), Kevin Dyson (37 receptions, 373 yards, four TDs) and tight end Frank Wycheck (28 receptions, 233 yards, one TD) at his disposal.
Add McNair's ability to run out of the pocket, and the Ravens' young defense will have its hands full trying to stop George and containing McNair.
"Last year I'm not sure Eddie was ever really healthy, and he looks healthy now, as does Steve McNair, so that's always a very dangerous combination," Billick said. "The hard part is the hidden yardage in there. McNair accounts for about 15 to 20 percent of their running game. You can keep Eddie George to a 70- or 80-yard game, but then McNair gets 20, 40, or 30 yards, and that can kill you."


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