The way Sunday's game started, it looked like the Ravens might be in store for a long, frustrating day.
Tennessee's offense marched down the field on their first two drives to jump out to an early lead, and the Ravens offense initially sputtered. By the time the first quarter ended, the Ravens had run just four offensive plays for 15 yards, and the Titans dominated the time of possession by holding the ball for 12 minutes, 50 seconds.
But then everything changed.
Baltimore played suffocating defense the rest of the game and didn't allow the Titans to do much of anything. The Ravens eventually clicked on both sides of the ball and finished with a 21-7 victory over the Titans at M&T Bank Stadium to improve to 6-4 on the season.
"What I'm proud of our guys the most for is pulling themselves out of it," Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh said about the slow start. "The catalyst was our defense, obviously."
After those first two long drives by Tennessee – the Ravens dodged a bullet on the first drive because Titans running back Shonn Greene fumbled at the goal line – Baltimore's defense didn't budge. Baltimore forced three-and-outs on seven of Tennessee's next eight drives.
The Titans gained just 68 yards in the final three quarters and didn't convert on a single third down in the second half. The pressure from the Ravens was relentless, as Baltimore sacked rookie quarterback Zach Mettenberger five times and also forced a late interception.
"We were able to settle in," said outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil, who had 2.5 sacks. "Our crowd was fantastic, and our guys started making plays in the back end, allowing us to get some rushes and get the game going."
The dominant performance was particularly impressive as the Ravens played with a completely rebuilt secondary after the season-ending injury to cornerback Jimmy Smith. The Ravens signed three new cornerbacks this week, and converted safety Anthony Levine played a critical role in his first start at cornerback.
"We just had to settle down and calm down," Levine said. "Then we just went out there and played ball."
A game-changing moment for the defense came early in the second quarter when Ravens safety Terrence Brooks delivered a crushing hit on tight end Delanie Walker over the middle of the field. Walker spent several minutes down on the field surrounded by medical personnel before eventually walking off the field under his own power.
The legal shoulder-to-shoulder hit knocked Walker out of the game with a concussion – he appeared to hit his head on the ground after the collision – and the Ravens noticed a difference after that play.
"Any time a guy gets hit like that – obviously you don't want to hurt anybody, and that was an aggressive, clean hit – it really makes guys think about running back there," said outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil.
With the defense playing lights out, the Ravens offense capitalized with efficient scoring drives and a methodical rushing attack. Running back Justin Forsett led the charge with 20 carries for 112 yards and two touchdowns. Wide receiver Torrey Smith also added a 32-yard touchdown snag in the fourth quarter, which is his fifth score in as many games.
The scores by Forsett and Smith came on a day where the yards didn't come easy for the offense.
"We weren't playing very well," Harbaugh said. "We were out of sync. We weren't handling pressures. We couldn't run the ball. We couldn't cut them off in the back side. They owned the line of scrimmage there in the first half, but we managed to figure out a couple ideas, hit a couple passes and start to crack them in the run game."
Forsett's first touchdown came on a 9-yard run when Harbaugh made a gutsy call to go for it on 4th-and-1 from inside the Titans' red zone. Forsett beat the defender around the edge and scampered into the end zone for Baltimore's first touchdown. Forsett likely could have added another touchdown at the end of the game, but the Ravens elected to kneel the ball on their final series from the 1-yard line instead of going for another score in the final minute.
Forsett's strong afternoon came on a day where quarterback Joe Flacco wasn't having a good game. He was off target on several throws and finished the game 16-of-27 passing for 169 yards and a touchdown.
"It was tough sledding in there, but I thought we hung in there really well," Flacco said. "It was a really tough game and nothing came easy, and we really had to grind it out."
The victory ended a two-game losing skid and puts the Ravens in a good spot heading into the bye week. Dropping to 5-5 would have been "devastating," Dumervil said, but now the Ravens are still in the thick of the AFC playoff picture.
In addition to ending their skid, the Ravens also gained ground in the division race (despite still being in last place) thanks to a favor from Rex Ryan and the New York Jets who upset the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Cleveland Browns are now alone in first place.
The Ravens head into the bye week on a high note and get some time to rest before traveling to New Orleans in Week 12 to face the Saints on Monday Night Football.
"I feel good about it," Harbaugh said. "It's hard not to look back at the ones that got away and feel like, 'Man, what if we had won this one or that one.' But you can't. You have to move forward and you have to move on and you have to win a game like this."