- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 3, 2004

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Tennessee Titans won’t say it, but Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis will: The Ravens are in the Titans’ heads.

“Honestly, probably yes,” Lewis said when he was asked whether the Ravens torment the Titans. “Any time you go into Tennessee and win in Adelphia Coliseum when nobody has won there, it’s kind of the thing that says, ‘Wow, do these guys really have our number?’”

The Ravens have beaten the Titans five straight times and were the first opposing team to win at the Coliseum when Baltimore knocked the top-seeded Titans out of the playoffs in 2000. Since the 1999 season, the Ravens have handed the Titans six of their 27 losses, including the playoffs.

Following last week’s season-ending 33-13 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Titans (12-4) were defensive about playing the Ravens (10-6) in an AFC wild-card game today at M&T; Bank Stadium.

“Who said we don’t want to play them? That’s what I want to know,” Titans wide receiver Derrick Mason told the Tennessean in Nashville. “That never came out of this locker room. Whoever said it, tell them to come talk to me.”

Despite any psychological advantages, perceived or otherwise, Lewis believes brute force will win the game.

“Once again, I think it comes down to just a smash-mouth football game — their best players against our best players,” he said.

The Titans know to move on they must exorcise the demons of their past, and that means beating their former AFC Central rivals.

“I prefer to play Baltimore just for the simple fact that everyone has been, ‘Oh, we don’t want to play Baltimore and this and that and the other,’” Titans linebacker Keith Bulluck said. “It’s going to be a smash-mouth game. We have respect for them, and if they don’t have respect for us, that’s fine. We just have to go up there and take it.”

The Ravens’ third-ranked defense, led by Lewis, can intimidate opponents.

Titans running back Eddie George has averaged just 60.7 yards in 13 games against the Ravens. George, who became the 17th back in NFL history to surpass 10,000 yards last weekend, can attribute his lack of production against the Ravens to Lewis.

“Eddie isn’t the only back to struggle against that defense,” Titans coach Jeff Fisher said. “They are very well coached, disciplined and very difficult to run against. Eddie and any other back has trouble against them. I have watched a lot of tape. The Seattle game, [Seattle] had trouble running the ball. Week after week, they frustrate backs. Eddie and Ray are good friends. I asked Eddie earlier in the week if he had spoken to Ray, and he just shook his head nope. Their defense with Ray can stop most backs in the league.”

Tennessee had the league’s top-rated run defense this season, allowing just 80.9 yards a game. The Ravens will use Jamal Lewis, the NFL’s leading rusher this season with 2,066 yards, to try and crack Tennessee’s impenetrable defensive front.

“Eventually, it is going to come. You can only do right so much,” Jamal Lewis said. “You take those 2 yards, 3 yards. In the end, it eventually turns into those 5- and 8-yard runs. Eventually, they will wear out.”

Meanwhile, the Ravens secondary will have a formidable challenge containing Titans quarterback and NFL co-MVP Steve McNair. With Tennessee relying less and less on George this season, McNair was asked to carry the offense, and he delivered.

McNair, 30, ranked first in the NFL with a 100.4 passer rating. He completed 250 of 400 passes for 3,215 yards with 24 touchdowns and just seven interceptions this season. He sat out of last week’s game as a precaution to help heal injuries — a cracked bone spur in his left ankle and a strained right calf. However, McNair practiced all week and is expected to play despite being less than 100 percent.

“I think at this point in time in the playoffs, you shoot for one thing, and that is the Super Bowl,” McNair said. “All the injuries take care of themselves once you step onto the field. You worry about the hurt after the game. This is a one-game season.”

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