Rookie Flacco, veteran Stover lead Baltimore over Tennessee, 13-10
By Barry Wilner
By Barry Wilner
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — A not-so-raw rookie and a trustworthy veteran lifted the Baltimore Ravens to the brink of the Super Bowl.
With the help of a brutal defense that knocks opponents silly, of course.
After all, these are the Ravens, who love nothing more than to win grudge matches. And, this one was worthy of WWE.
Baltimore survived, 13-10, yesterday against the Tennessee Titans thanks to Matt Stover's 43-yard field goal with 53 seconds remaining.
The unflappable Joe Flacco was certain the 40-year-old kicker would get his team into next weekend's AFC title game at either Pittsburgh or San Diego.
"I just watched on the big screen," said the first rookie quarterback to win two playoff games. "I didn't watch it live for whatever reason."
Maybe Flacco's reason was simply that he never flinches. Nor does his team, which took the wild-card route to the NFL championship in 2000 and just might do it again.
"We've been confident in ourselves all year," the first-round draft pick from Delaware said. "It seems like we've been on the road for the longest time. It doesn't matter to us. We're going to go out there and battle the crowd, battle the other team, and give it our best."
Their best has them at 13-5 after Stover, the last member of the Ravens who played when the franchise was in Cleveland, nailed his field goal.
"I would say this would be the No. 1 (kick in my career)," Stover said, then added, "but we've got some more kicks, too. So let's just be humble about that."
Humble after a rumble.
Two teams with an extreme dislike for each other never stopped pounding it out in the wind and rain.
The difference: Baltimore forced three turnovers and never gave away the ball.
"We just continued to fight and refused to let them in (the end zone)," linebacker Bart Scott said. "We made the plays we had to ... the ball came out. We'll take it any way we can get it."
Baltimore's postseason run looks eerily similar to when it won the championship after the 2000 season. Back then, it also was a wild card and also won in Tennessee on the way to the title.
"It's great to make our own history, our own path," Scott said. "That team has its own identity and we're trying to create our own."
It was so rugged that the highlight-reel play was All-Pro linebacker Ray Lewis' explosive second-quarter hit on Titans fullback Ahmard Hall near the sideline. Hall's helmet flew off and both players began jawing at each other.
The nasty words never stopped flowing. But the Ravens backed it up with just enough points, climaxed by the winning kick.
"It's a little shocking," said Titans linebacker Keith Bulluck, who slammed down a few small metal barriers lining the tunnel leading to the Titans' locker room at the end. "You go out and play defense the way you did. At the end of the day, realistically you have two, three turnovers inside the 20, you're not supposed to win.
"Playoff football, those are the mistakes you can't have as a team."
Stover also made a 21-yard field goal early in the fourth quarter for a 10-7 lead.
Rob Bironas' 27-yarder with 4:23 left in regulation tied it at 10.
Then Flacco connected with Todd Heap on a 23-yard pass on third down, eventually leading to the winning kick.
Flacco almost had a major blunder on Baltimore's next-to-last series when he nearly stepped out of the back of the end zone while passing. Few replays were shown at LP Field, and Titans coach Jeff Fisher dismissed the play afterward.
"I wasn't out because they didn't call it," Flacco said.