- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 12, 2020

BALTIMORE — As the clock ticked down to zero Saturday, Baltimore cornerback Marlon Humphrey said he couldn’t believe what was happening. The lights were just as bright, but the stands were more than half empty. And the scoreboard read Titans 28, Ravens 12.

Next to him, a teammate put into words what Humphrey was feeling: This surely had to be a dream. They would wake up in the morning and it would be game day.

“That’s kind of what it felt like, honestly,” Humphrey said later. “As crazy as it sounds.”

But the dream was just a dream. The reality was a stunning 28-12 loss for the home team at M&T Bank Stadium after the Titans manhandled the Ravens in a way the team with the AFC’s best record had been dominating opposing teams themselves all season.

Baltimore became the first No. 1 seed to lose to a sixth-seed since 2010. The regular season had belonged to Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson, but on Saturday, it was Titans running back Derrick Henry who stole the spotlight.

Now, the Ravens will have months to ponder how their 14-2 season — which included a 12-game winning streak to close the regular schedule — is over after just one playoff game. Questions will follow Jackson, the MVP frontrunner who dropped to 0-2 in the postseason.

In the simplest terms, Baltimore couldn’t stop the Titans’ run game or solve their defense when it counted.

Henry rushed for 195 yards on 30 carries, a week after the former Heisman winner powered through the New England Patriots. The Titans gave up 530 yards, but prevented Baltimore from scoring a touchdown until the fourth quarter. They even out-tricked the Ravens, catching them off guard with a touchdown pass from Henry in the third quarter from a wildcat formation.

“We just beat ourselves,” Jackson said. “We had, I had, a lot of mistakes on my half.”

“We got our ass whipped,” running back Mark Ingram said.

How did Tennessee do it? For one, the Titans got the Ravens out of their comfort zone, rookie wideout Miles Boykin said. Baltimore fell behind 14-0 by the second quarter — something the Ravens hadn’t faced in a game since Week 4. That, players said, made it harder for Baltimore to stick to their game plan.

Uncharacteristic mistakes were made. Jackson committed three turnovers (two interceptions and a lost fumble) after having just eight (six INTs, two fumbles lost) the entire year. Two of those giveaways resulted in scores.

Even Baltimore’s aggressiveness backfired. In the regular season, the Ravens were 8-of-8 on fourth-and-1 and led the league in fourth-down conversion percentage (70.8%). But on Saturday, Baltimore was stopped twice on fourth-and-1. The first failed try, around midfield, led to an immediate 45-yard touchdown from quarterback Ryan Tannehill to Kalif Raymond. On the second stop, the Titans proceeded to score on a six-play drive that ended with Henry’s leaping pass to wideout Corey Davis.

Ravens coach John Harbaugh said he thought the Titans controlled the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. Tennessee’s defensive line created enough pressure to prevent Baltimore from converting in the red zone, where the Ravens were just 1-of-4. On offense, the Titans’ linemen pushed and pulled to make space for Henry.

Ultimately, the Ravens had no answer for Henry. Earlier in the week, Baltimore safety Earl Thomas III caused a stir when he said the Patriots “didn’t seem too interested” in tackling the running back, adding the Ravens had a “different mindset.”

But neither Thomas nor the Ravens could not bring the 6-foot-3, 247-pound running back down often enough. On one play, Henry stiff-armed Thomas to the dirt and on another, he burst through the line for a 66-yard gain.

“When you arm tackle, he just runs right through it,” Thomas said.

Jackson, meanwhile, was substantially better in this postseason compared to his debut, a 23-17 loss against the Los Angeles Chargers. On Saturday, he was the source of the Ravens’ offense: 79 of Baltimore’s 88 plays ran through the 23-year-old, either as a pass (a career-high 59 attempts) or a run (20 attempts). He threw 365 yards and added another 143 on the ground.

But the mistakes cost him and the Ravens. His flaws were just noticeable enough to provide fodder for critics in the coming months.

“It is not just Lamar,” Humphrey said. “Honestly the sad reality of it is this Ravens team, we have been here two years in a row, and we have lost. So, I think you have to look yourself in the mirror, and I think this team’s identity right now is get in the playoffs and choke. … That is just the hard truth.”

After the loss, Harbaugh told his players he was “grateful” for this season. He felt that they became the best team they could be. As disappointing as Saturday’s defeat for the Ravens was, Baltimore is still a relatively young team.

But in the meantime, the Ravens will have to digest that they’re not moving on.

“You never expect to be in a car crash until you’re getting into a car crash,” linebacker Matthew Judon said. “I feel like that’s what they did to us. We was riding. We were rolling high. And it hit us.”

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