Nightmarish at worst and disappointing at best. That’s how the Baltimore Ravens looked in the shock 28-12 loss to Mike Vrabel’s Tennessee Titans at home on Sunday.
Despite his jaw-dropping exploits in the regular season, which saw the Ravens finishing 14-2, Lamar Jackson appeared almost amateur against a clearly well-prepared team.
The Tennessee Titans orchestrated their second shock victory in a row, after defeating defending Super Bowl champion New England last week at Foxoborough, and now dominating the Ravens in Baltimore.
The Titans relied on turnovers and, of course, star running back Derrick Henry to carry them to their first AFC Championship game since 2002 where they will face the winner of Houston vs Kansas City.
Here are four key factors that led to the Tennessee Titans toppling the Baltimore Ravens.
All hail King Henry
One common factor in the Tennessee Titans’ playoff victories has been their opponents’ inability to stop the human bulldozer that is Derrick Henry.
The 26-year-old was able to put up 182 yards on 34 carries against New England prompting Ravens safety Earl Thomas to throw some shade.
Thomas said: “Those guys didn’t seem too interested in tackling [Henry]. I think our mindset is a little different.”
But, alas, Thomas and the Ravens actually allowed Henry to wrack up even more yardage at M&T Stadium with 195 yards, averaging 6.6 per carry.
Standout plays included a 66-yard run down to the red zone in the third quarter and a 23-yard run that same quarter which put him in the record books.
Not only that, but Henry actually produced some magic no one saw coming, least of all the Ravens, when he threw a touchdown pass to Corey Davis for a 3-yard touchdown.
Can anybody stop him?
Win the turnover battle, win the game
The Tennessee Titans were not only able to force the Ravens to turn the ball over but their offense also capitalised once they were handed the ball as a result – a formula that is usually a sure path to victory.
Tennessee scored their 28 points soley off the back of two interceptions and two turnovers on downs after key fourth-down stops by their defense.
Going into this game, Jackson had thrown just six interceptions yet the Titans’ defense were able to pick him off twice as well as force a fumble which was recovered and led to a Tannehill rushing touchdown.
Both teams’ defenses were in the top 10 when it came to turnovers after the regular season, according to the Football Database, so the turnover battle was always going to be a decisive factor.
Jackson struggled to produce MVP form in playoffs
Second-year quarterback Lamar Jackson has suffered his second consecutive one-and-done playoff exit.
The 23-year-old, who is the MVP front-runner after his record-breaking regular season performance, never found his groove and looked frustrated throughout.
The tone of the game was set when Jackson threw a tipped ball for an interception on the Ravens’ opening drive handing the ball straight back to the Titans who marched down the field and scored.
Jackson was 31-for-59 passing for 365 yards with one touchdown, two interceptions and a fumble.
He also had 20 carries for 143 yards, never finding the end zone himself and unable to convert on fourth down throughout the night.
Questions may be asked of the young quarterback’s ability to deliver when it counts after two consecutive early playoff exits and how Jackson handles this controversy could define the rest of his career.
Mike Vrabel put together a master game plan
While Jackson clearly struggled with the pressure and hype heading into the playoffs, credit has to be given to Mike Vrabel who achieved what few teams have been able to do.
The Titans’ defense – who were without key players including Malcolm Butler and Cameron Wake – shut down the league’s top rushing offense and a game-changing quarterback.
In a game plan which showcased preparation and near-perfect execution, Tennessee’s defensive line were constantly pressuring Jackson and the Ravens.
When Jackson scrambled, the defense were on him straight away and largely forced him to move laterally out of bounds with few deep runs up the field.
Speaking after the game, Vrabel said: “We thought the key to the game was to force them to kick field goals.”
And that was clear from start to finish, fearlessly challenging every run and contesting every pass.
Vrabel, who played for game plan mastermind Bill Belichick for eight years, looked as prepared for the top seeded Ravens as Bill ever had and showed he had clearly been paying attention during his Patriots tenure.