Both Titans coach Jeff Fisher and Ravens coach John Harbaugh said Monday that postseason games past between their respective clubs won’t mean anything when they tee it up Saturday in the AFC Divisional Playoffs at LP Field.
Fans, media and a few players certainly recall the battles in the 2000 playoffs when Baltimore stunned a top-ranked Titans team 24-10 on its way to Super Bowl XXXV. Others remember the rematch three years later when the Titans took a 20-17 victory at Baltimore in the wild-card round that season.
But as the rubber match approaches this week, both were quick to emphasize that this game stands on its own merits with a berth in the AFC Championship at stake.
“Maybe you need to talk to the Eddie Georges, the Frank Wychecks, the Steve McNairs and the Trent Dilfers and Jamal Lewises and Jonathan Odgens, because that’s when we were playing them twice a year and battling for the playoffs,” Fisher said. “These are two completely different teams. Obviously, both teams have a lot to lose. This is sudden death. Both teams are hoping to go out and play as best as they possibly can to win and move on.”
Those games certainly shouldn’t have any meaningfulness to Harbaugh, who is in his first year of guiding the rebuilt Ravens, who were then coached by Brian Billick.
“Will I draw on that? I don’t think so. The guys who were part of that can draw on that,” Harbaugh said. “[Defensive coordinator] Rex [Ryan] has talked about that with me, and I’ve talked to Ray [Lewis] about that. I know they talk to different guys about it. It’s neat. I think it’s something that’s positive. But this is a new year. That’s a long time ago. This is two new football teams. We’re different football teams from the first time we played them, so I don’t think that’ll have any relevance in this game.”
Perhaps no relevance, but plenty of similarities in the styles the teams played then and now. Both teams would prefer to run the football on offense, play tough physical defense
Fisher and the Titans hope to flip the field and the momentum by forcing a turnover or getting a big play on special teams.
“Both these teams are pretty much built the same way as those teams were back in 2000,” Fisher said. “They play good defense, they run the football and they have exceptional special teams, and they’re very physical teams. That’s the kind of matchup you expect to see in this round of the playoffs.”
As for those who were played in those playoff games, the Titans have only Jevon Kearse, Craig Hentrich and Keith Bulluck, who was a rookie that year, left over from the game in the 2000 playoffs. Those three, plus Albert Haynesworth, Donnie Nickey, Justin McCareins and Ken Amato, were around for the 2003 playoffs.
The Ravens still have linebacker Ray Lewis, kicker Matt Stover and injured cornerback Chris McAlister, as well as former Titans Samari Rolle, Derrick Mason and Lorenzo Neal, who played in the 2000 game. A handful of other Ravens took part in the 2003 playoff game.
“There’s been some great matchups. It’s been a great rivalry, but those things that took place in the past are really not going to have any impact on what’s going to happen,” Fisher said. “There were some great games, and I guess I’m very fortunate to stand up here and answer questions about those games, because some of them were years ago.
“We just have a few players that were involved. Specifically in the 2000 game, they’ve got more players than we do, and they happen to be our former players that were involved in that game.”
The game that might have more bearing on Saturday’s contest has nothing to do with games of years past. Instead, Tennessee’s 13-10 win at Baltimore in early October is something that could be relevant as the teams ready for Saturday’s rematch.
The Titans rallied past the Ravens that day as Kerry Collins hit Alge Crumpler on an 11-yard touchdown pass with 1:56 to play.
“It was a good win for us against a good team that basically mirrored us, that ran the football that made some plays with the play-action pass and then played good defense,” Fisher said. “It was a good win for us on the road in a tough place to play, but I think both teams are much better now than they were when we played the first time.”
VICKERSON RETURNS: The Tennessee Titans restored defensive tackle Kevin Vickerson back to the 53-man roster on Monday and released defensive tackle Amon Gordon.
Vickerson was suspended for the final four games of the regular season because of a violation of the NFL’s banned substance policy. He was eligible to return and practiced with the Titans, who had a one-week exemption to make a move regarding his roster status.
Gordon, who was promoted from the practice squad for the final two games of the regular season, cannot be re-signed by the Titans to their practice squad because of league rules regarding the postseason.
“It was very difficult. He understands. We’re very grateful for what he gave us, not only as a practice squad player, but also as an active roster player and having played in Week 17,” Fisher said. “When you release a player at this point in the playoffs, you have to wait until after the Super Bowl to clear waivers. We would not have the ability to bring him back. It was a difficult decision, but he understands the rules, and we had to make the decision.”
Gordon’s agent Angelo Wright was disappointed with the timing of the move.
“I don’t know what we’re going to do. That’s a bitter pill to swallow. That’s the reason you stay around is to be able to be a part of all the playoffs and everything,” Wright said. “So I don’t know what we’ll do. We’ve already had a call from another playoff team [in the NFC] wanting to add him to their practice squad if they can.”
INJURIES: Fisher said that defensive linemen Kyle Vanden Bosch (groin) and Albert Haynesworth (knee) remain on track to practice this week and play in Saturday’s game.
“We said we expect them to practice this week, and I haven’t changed or moved off that that course. I fully expect both of them to be on the practice field. They’re doing well,” Fisher said.
Center Kevin Mawae (elbow) is much more iffy for practice and the game. Leroy Harris, who started at Indianapolis in the regular-season finale, would get the call if Mawae cannot go.
“He’ll be day-to-day. I don’t know whether he’ll be on the field as soon as these two, but Kevin will be day-to-day,” Fisher said. “Leroy is equipped to play and play well if Kevin can’t play.”
RESPECT: After the Ravens’ win at Miami, defensive coordinator Rex Ryan made the comment that Baltimore’s defense hasn’t gotten the respect it deserved until the wild-card win.
“Nobody has respected this team until right now,” Ryan said. “And that’s fine with us. Tough on everybody else, just right for us.”
Fisher wasn’t buying into the lack of respect theme for a Baltimore defense that ranks second in the league in yards per game.
“He needs to read the paper and watch TV. I think they’ve gotten plenty of respect,” Fisher said. “Obviously, they’ve got plenty of respect from us. If that’s the way you want to handle and motivate, so be it. People aren’t going to go out after kickoff and play hard because they felt like they were disrespected. They’re going to play hard to win the game.”