Mark Andrews stood at his locker on one badly sprained ankle a mere 12 hours after a defeat no one could have fathomed, when he talked about what the future held. At the time, it was filled with so much promise. The possibilities seemed endless, the ceiling non-existent.
That was on Jan. 12, 2020. Since then, nothing has been normal.
The Ravens’ on-field play took a dip from their outstanding 2019 season. They’ve gone through a coronavirus outbreak that placed nearly two dozen players on the team’s Reserve/COVID-19 list. And, once again, the Titans are waiting for them in January.
Nearly a year after their loss in the playoffs, the feeling in Baltimore is different than it was last January — they’ve gone through ups and downs all season long. But now the Ravens get their shot at the Titans once again. And, understandably, they know what a win on Sunday would mean.
“I think almost the second that we lost that last game last year, I was thinking about, ‘I want to get back to this moment. I want to get back to this moment, so we can see what we can do,’” Andrews said Wednesday. “We’ve got such a talented team. For us, the sky is the limit.”
Is there added motivation entering the Wild Card Round? Some have said there’s no need for added motivation. Others, though, are much more realistic.
“Definitely, because it was them,” defensive tackle Brandon Williams said. “So, now we get to see them again in the same scenario. Obviously, we have that sense in it, and we know what happened last year. And, obviously, we don’t want the same thing to happen. So, we’re going to come into Sunday ready to go.”
Last year, the Titans upset the Ravens in the Divisional Round of the playoffs and sent the Ravens home after their 14-2 regular season. In a 28-12 loss, the Titans controlled the line of scrimmage and made key plays when they needed to.
More accurately, though, the Ravens shot themselves in the foot time and time again with mistakes, both mental and physical, as a quick 14-0 Titans lead left them spiraling all night.
In November, the Ravens jumped out to an 11-point lead and looked like they’d cruise to a win, before mistakes, once again mental and physical, let the Titans take control. From there, the physical prowess of running back Derrick Henry and wide receiver A.J. Brown took over, as the Titans won 30-24 in overtime.
The Ravens think they’re a different football team now, not only from last January, but from Nov. 22, too.
“I feel my team is a lot hungrier, and we’re a lot (more) motivated from what went on, the adversity with the COVID-19 outbreak, some guys missing games because of it,” quarterback Lamar Jackson said. “Our team is just hungry right now, and that’s just what we need. We need to be hungry; we need to be doubted. I feel like we play better like that. We’ve just got to stay focused, though -- we need to. But we’re good.”
The Ravens’ losses to the Titans haven’t only come with the pain of the scoreboard, either. The Titans made it a point to not back down from the No. 1 seeded Ravens a year ago and immediately came to the midfield logo at M&T Bank Stadium as a team before kickoff. This November, cornerback Malcolm Butler and Ravens coach John Harbaugh got in a heated shouting match before the game at the midfield logo.
“We’re focused on the game, and playing the game between the lines, between the whistles and between our ears — that’s what we’re focused on,” Harbaugh said. “It’s the same thing we say every week; we’re not going to get baited into things. We’re going to play the game to win the game. That’s going to be our focus no matter who we’re playing, or how the game goes, or whatever. However the game goes, we’ll just deal with it as we find it when we get there.”
It’s clear that, at least on some level, the rematch is playing into the minds of Ravens players and coaches. There’s almost no way it couldn’t.
The lasting images of the Titans at the midfield logo, of Henry running wild in the team’s previous two matchups, of Brown breaking through seemingly the entire defense and, most importantly, of the Ravens sitting at home in last year’s playoffs has certainly lasted in Baltimore.
Now, the Ravens get a chance at a matchup they’ve been waiting for since last January, when the world was massively different, but in a small way, the same.
“Every loss is definitely motivation,” Jackson said. “But we’ve played this team twice – playoffs and one time in the regular season – so we’ve just got to focus this time, just like the last five games or however many games it was. We’ve just got to focus, and we should be fine.”