Five of the Baltimore Ravens' 11 games so far this season have been decided by three points. They have won just one of those games.
Today at PSINet Stadium, the Ravens (4-7) play the Tennessee Titans, a team that seems to have uncovered the formula for winning close games. After several mediocre seasons, the Titans (9-2) are tied for the NFL's second-best record. Six of their victories have been decided by six points or less, including their 14-11 victory over the Ravens on Oct. 10 in Nashville.
"I don't know if there's a magic potion or anything," Tennessee Coach Jeff Fisher said. "Some of these close games, we've had guys make plays. Two or three years ago, the team looked toward one or two players to make that play, make the difference in a close game, but now the feeling is that anybody can do it."
Four of the Titans' victories have resulted from second-half comebacks. And they have outscored their opponents 63-53 in the fourth quarter--bad news for Baltimore, which is coming off a fourth-quarter meltdown. The Ravens gave up 23 points in the final 11 minutes against the Jacksonville Jaguars last week and lost, 30-23.
The Ravens say it is just a matter of gaining the confidence needed to win close games. But which comes first, the winning or the confidence?
"When you've won more than you've lost, you tend to have confidence that you're going to find some way--special teams, offensively, defensively--to pull that game out," Ravens quarterback Tony Banks said. "That's what [Tennessee's] been doing. If you watch their games, our games look real similar. But they're just pulling it out in the end."
Tennessee tight end Frank Wycheck, who starred at the University of Maryland, said the Titans' comeback from a nine-point, fourth-quarter deficit to defeat the Cincinnati Bengals, 36-35, in their season opener was crucial to this season's success, which has followed three consecutive 8-8 finishes.
"We pulled out that one early in the year against Cincinnati," he said. "That just builds a lot of confidence. . . . You just learn how to win. That's the biggest thing we haven't done in the past. We've been in a lot of games that we didn't know how to get it done at the end. Now guys are stepping up, making some plays to win."
Ravens Notes: Five of the past six games between Baltimore and Tennessee have been decided by four points or less. . . . Tennessee offensive lineman Bruce Matthews, a 17-year veteran, will pass former Rams tackle Jackie Slater today for most games played by an offensive lineman with 260. Matthews, an 11-time Pro Bowl selection, has started 192 consecutive games. . . . A win today by the Titans would extend their winning streak against AFC Central opponents to 14, which would match Dallas for the second-longest division winning streak in the NFL since 1970. Tennessee is 8-0 against AFC Central opponents this season.