As promised, we’re back with another edition of Classic Titans Games! For this trip to memory lane, we’re taking a look at the 2003 Wild Card Round matchup against former AFC Central rival; The Baltimore Ravens.
At the time, the Titans went 12-4 for the season thanks to an offense run by quarterback Steve McNair, RB Eddie George (in his last year in Tennessee), and WR Derrick Mason, as well as the league’s #1 run defense. McNair’s efforts were lauded, as he led the season in passer rating and was named co-MVP along with rival quarterback Peyton Manning.
The Titans finished with the same record as the Colts that season, but because Indianapolis swept them in the regular season, that meant Tennessee had to travel on the road to face the Ravens, who had the league’s #1 rushing offense thanks to a sensational campaign from RB Jamal Lewis, who at the time had the second highest single season yardage total from a back in NFL history (2,066).
As well as looking to snap their five game losing streak against their heated rivals, the Titans were also looking to avenge their Divisional Round loss to Baltimore at Nashville in 2000. Doing that required stopping Jamal Lewis from gaining any traction. Sure enough, the league’s #1 run defense held the backbone of the #1 rushing offense to only 35 yards on 14 carries.
The Ravens offense got the ball to start things off, but the Titans defense forced a quick three and out. From there the offense got to work, as Steve McNair and Eddie George cut up the Ravens defense before then rookie Chris Brown (no not that Chris Brown) ran in a six-yard touchdown to give the Titans an early 7-0 lead.
The Titans defense forced another three and out, but McNair threw an interception to Will Demps, who returned the ball for a 56-yard touchdown to tie things up at seven. Both offenses traded away punts by the time the second quarter started, and on the Titans’ first drive of the quarter McNair threw his second interception of the game, this time to legendary safety Ed Reed.
But the Ravens couldn’t do anything with this drive, as the Titans shutdown Lewis and forced yet another three and out before giving it back to Baltimore on a three and out of their own. Quarterback Anthony Wright put together a scoring drive that allowed the Ravens to take a 10-7 lead off a 43-yard field goal from Matt Stover just before the half’s end.
Both teams traded punts on their opening drives to the second half, but the Titans responded with a three-minute scoring drive, which including this key 1-yard run from Eddie George on 3rd and 1 to keep the chains moving.
Two plays later, McNair connected with WR Justin McCareins on a bomb for the 49-yard touchdown. The Titans reclaimed the lead and went up 14-10.
The next combined four drives from both teams resulted in punts, but the Titans capitalized off a Samari Rolle interception, leading to a 45-yard field goal from legendary kicker Gary Anderson to increase their lead to 17-10.
The Ravens immediately responded by driving and tying the game at 17 thanks to an Anthony Wright touchdown bomb to tight end Todd Heap. Ravens corner Chris McAlister intercepted McNair on the following drive (Interestingly enough, this was the first time McNair had been picked off three times in a game since November 24th, 2002, also against the Ravens), and it looked like the Ravens had the momentum needed to put the game away.
But the Titans defense came up strong yet again, forcing a quick three and out that was aided by an unnecessary roughness penalty on Ravens tackle Orlando Brown (Rest in Peace, btw).
Eddie George, who rushed for 88 yards on 25 carries, kept the drive going on 3rd and 1 with an eight-yard run up the middle. Immediately following that, McNair connected with a wide open Derrick Mason for 13 yards. After moving the ball five more yards, Gary Anderson—then 44 years of age—was brought on the field for a chance to move the Titans to New England for the Divisional Round.
He did so.
The kick just barely made it past the goalpost, but went in nonetheless. The Ravens tried to put together a game winning drive, but had zero timeouts and no time, and the Titans escaped with a 20-17 victory over their rivals, ended their five-game losing skid to the Ravens.
While the Titans would lose to the Patriots 17-14 the following week, they at least got a playoff win out of a remarkable campaign from Steve McNair. The defense was excellent, shutting down Jamal Lewis and putting the heat on Anthony Wright. This would be the Titans’ last postseason victory until the 2017 Wild Card Round against the Chiefs.