NASHVILLE — The image that will be replayed from Saturday's AFC division playoff game is Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis smashing into Titans fullback Ahmard Hall near the sideline during the second quarter. It's the kind of collision that forces you to look away, an intersection of violence that sent Hill's helmet, and the football, flying out of bounds.
But the reason the Ravens beat the Titans 13-10 to advance to the conference championship game at either Pittsburgh or San Diego next Sunday is because their defense didn't lose their helmets or their heads.
Despite giving up 391 yards and being outplayed by the Titans offense for most of the game, Baltimore's second-ranked defense forced three turnovers in a bend-but-don't-break performance that was as much about will as skill.
"We were able to keep them out of the end zone. Our motto is 'They're not in until they're in,' " Ravens nose tackle Haloti Ngata said. "They only got in once, and it was good our defense was able to be poised and not crack."
It also helps having rookie quarterback Joe Flacco, who has treated the playoffs like a playground. Flacco led a 51-yard drive in nine plays to set up Matt Stover's winning 43-yard field goal with 53 seconds left. Flacco became the first rookie quarterback to win two playoff games.
"You read his eyes and you go, 'Does anything faze this guy?' " Ravens tight end Todd Heap said. "That's the way he's been all year. People have been asking me, 'Is he going to be different in the playoffs. Is this going to be too big for him? How are things going to change?' I just simply say, 'They're not.' He's been the same way since the first day he came in, since the first day of minicamp, since training camp. (He) just exudes confidence throughout the huddle."
When the Titans weren't busy beating themselves — with two fumbles and an interception in scoring territory — Flacco needed just three big plays to knock out the AFC's top seed.
He heaved a 48-yard bomb to receiver Derrick Mason for a touchdown; hit Mark Clayton for 37 yards to set up a tying field goal; and converted a critical third down on the final drive with a 23-yard pass to Heap.
Saturday's game brought back haunting memories for the Titans. Eight years ago, they were 13-3 and had homefield advantage throughout the playoffs when the Ravens upset them on their way to the Super Bowl.
"Trust me, it was physical," Lewis said. "I was here in (January 2001) and it was physical then. Both ballclubs are built kind of similar. The same way. That's why the game came down to what it was."
"You think I feel good right now?" Titans coach Jeff Fisher said. "This is a difficult loss for this team (and) the fans. There was a great deal of hope and excitement. There's nothing I can tell them in that room that can make them feel better right now."
Titans quarterback Kerry Collins passed for 281 yards. But he was intercepted once and running back LenDale White and tight end Alge Crumpler each lost fumbles.
"The bottom line, as long as they don't get in the end zone, everything else takes care of itself," Lewis said.