The Baltimore Ravens watched in frustration today as another game slipped from their grasp.
Although Tennessee seemed to do everything it could to lose this game, the Titans found a way to beat the Ravens, 14-11, before 65,486 at Adelphia Coliseum. The win gave Tennessee (4-1) a half-game lead in the AFC Central.
Baltimore (2-3) has had its chances to win games this season. But for the third time, the Ravens came up short when they needed to make big plays. Coach Brian Billick was clearly agitated by the team's inability to take advantage of the Titans' mistakes--particularly Tennessee's NFL-record 212 penalty yards.
"It seems like we've taken a step backward," said Billick, who was hoarse from venting his anger on the sideline. "They gave us enough opportunities and good field position for us to do something with it, but we failed to capitalize on it."
Titans quarterback Neil O'Donnell hooked up with Yancey Thigpen for the game-winning touchdown, throwing a 27-yard strike that made it 14-9 with 7 minutes 23 seconds left in the third quarter.
The Ravens' offense stalled at critical junctures, and a perfect example came early in the third quarter. Tennessee safety Perry Phenix was called for a 54-yard pass interference penalty on wide receiver Justin Armour, which gave the Ravens the ball on the Titans 35-yard line. On first down, quarterback Stoney Case found Patrick Johnson in the end zone, but Johnson dropped the ball. On the next play, Errict Rhett carried the ball for a three-yard gain. Then Case overthrew Armour on third and seven. The Ravens had no choice but to settle for a 50-yard field goal, which gave them the lead at 9-7. It was the fifth game in its short history that Baltimore has been held without a touchdown. "The thing is, we moved the ball up and down the field," Case said. "We just couldn't score. It was so many little things."
Matt Stover kicked field goals of 44, 46 and 50 yards for the Ravens. Baltimore's only other points came when middle linebacker Ray Lewis, who led the team with 13 tackles, brought down running back Rodney Thomas in the end zone. Stover, whose job appeared to be in jeopardy earlier this week when the Ravens signed place kicker Joe Nedney, kept Baltimore in the game on a day when its rushing attack stalled. Rhett entered the game as the AFC's leading rusher, but was stymied by the Titans' defense. Rhett had 59 yards on 21 carries after rushing for 100 yards in each of the past three games. Tennessee running back Eddie George gained 55 yards on 20 carries.
"It seemed like we had every kind of penalty known to man happen out there today," Titans Coach Jeff Fisher said. "We won the game, but we've got to play better football."
Baltimore came into the game with several banged-up players. However, right tackle Harry Swayne (leg contusion) was the only injured player not to start or play in the game. Swayne was unavailable because he reinjured his leg during warmups. Left tackle Jonathan Ogden, who last week left the field strapped to a backboard after suffering a cervical strain, started, but lasted only six plays. He aggravated the injury on the first play of the Ravens' second drive and did not reenter the game.
"I got hit at the wrong angle, a head-to-head collision," Ogden said. "I felt a sharp pain and my neck said, 'I'm not ready.' "
With Swayne and Ogden sidelined, the Ravens were forced to shuffle their offensive line. Left guard Everett Lindsay shifted to Ogden's spot. Mike Flynn took Lindsay's place. Spencer Folau played for Swayne.
Former Maryland quarterback O'Donnell (24 of 35 for 216 yards, one touchdown) tested rookie Chris McAlister from the start. On successive plays in the first quarter, McAlister--in his first start of the season--gave up a 20-yard catch to Thigpen and a 10-yard catch to Isaac Byrd. Thigpen also beat McAlister on the go-ahead touchdown.