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Titans, Ravens to defend their claims

Host Tennessee is last year's AFC champ; Baltimore has its defense and a big road win.

By JOHN ROMANO

© St. Petersburg Times, published January 7, 2001


NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- They show up today with much in common. They are division rivals who relocated their franchises in the 1990s. They both are built around defense. And they each have a lone defeat at Adelphia Coliseum.

Tennessee, of course, has the more impressive record at Adelphia. Since moving into their new stadium in 1999, the Titans are 15-1 at home.

But Baltimore's mark at Adelphia is just as significant. In their second game in Tennessee's building, the Ravens upset the Titans 24-23 in November.

The invincibility of Adelphia has been sheared away and the Titans are the ones holding the clippers.

"That's huge. All this is now is a football game. It's not a football game and (a streak)," Baltimore quarterback Trent Dilfer said. "It's not like playing Green Bay when you're in Tampa. You may be equal to them or better than them, but you also have the cold to contend with and the fact you've never won in Green Bay. There's none of that here.

"It's us against them and nothing else matters."

It would be stretching the truth to say November's game has negated Tennessee's home-field advantage today, but it did add confidence for the Ravens and create doubt for the Titans.

"Had that not happened, that might be one additional barrier that we had to deal with in a playoff environment that really doesn't exist now," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "That doesn't mean we don't respect the fact that they are home and it's going to be tough. But having beaten them where no other team has beaten them before, you'd have to think about it."

The regular season victory against the Titans and last week's playoff triumph against Denver have left the Ravens feeling a tad frisky.

Ravens cornerback Chris McAlister suggested Tennessee running back Eddie George was afraid to take a hit after being leveled by linebacker Ray Lewis in the last game. Billick said Titans defensive end Jevon Kearse would not get a "sniff" if he gets matched up against left tackle Jonathan Ogden.

The greatest point of contention has involved the two defenses. The Ravens set an NFL record for the fewest points allowed in a 16-game regular season and consider themselves one of the all-time great defenses. Tennessee, however, is officially the No. 1 defense in the NFL (based on yards allowed) after a superb effort against a lackluster Cowboys team in a Monday night game on Christmas.

"We put ourselves in the record books and we're not No. 1. That p----s me off," said Ravens defensive tackle Tony Siragusa. "The Titans have a good defense, but Dallas played scab players and got 80 yards in offense."

Baltimore may not have earned the title of the No. 1 defense, but the Ravens did win a new level of respect after embarrassing Denver's offense in last week's 21-3 victory.

The Ravens have three Pro Bowl players on defense -- Sam Adams, Ray Lewis and Rod Woodson -- and have not allowed a 100-yard rusher in 34 consecutive games. George averaged 16 yards in two meetings with Baltimore this season. He averaged 105.5 yards against every other opponent.

"They have a lot of speed and they penetrate to the point of attack and disrupt your reads to where you are running into an unblocked linebacker -- and that linebacker is Ray Lewis, who is a hell of a tackler," George said. "That gets you out of your rhythm early, and they do that on a consistent basis. You may get a 5- or 6-yard run, but it's not going to happen on a consistent basis against that defense."

For the most part, the Titans have taken the high road when confronted with the boasts coming out of Baltimore. Let them talk, has been the general attitude. Yet the Titans -- the defending AFC champions and reigning Central champs -- also seem eager to tell their side of the story once today's game is completed.

"It's getting to be a rivalry like Denver and Kansas City or the Broncos and Raiders. And I think it only became a rivalry once we beat them," said Baltimore tight end Shannon Sharpe. "It can't be a rivalry when they always win. It's only become a rivalry when the rabbit has the gun."

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