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By Terry McCormick

sports@timesfreepress.com

NASHVILLE - The ghosts of Ravens past claimed another Tennessee Titans season Saturday.

In amazingly similar fashion to eight years ago, underdog Baltimore cashed in on just enough chances to knock out the top-seeded Titans 13-10, sending the Ravens to face the winner of today's San Diego-Pittsburgh game in the conference championship game.

"I'm sick right now. I ain't going to be able to sleep this whole ... summer, to let some ... like this happen," Titans cornerback Nick Harper said. "This team should never lose in the playoffs. This is what we play the game for. The best team should always win.

"No question, we were the better team. You watched the game. There's no way you should give up three plays on defense and lose the game. It's a team sport. Other people have got to step up, too, and make plays."

The Titans piled up 391 yards of total offense yet reached the end zone just once, self-destructing with three turnovers, including an interception and two red-zone fumbles.

The defense limited Baltimore to nine first downs and 50 yards rushing but surrendered just enough to lose. Only three Ravens plays from scrimmage went for more than 8 yards. Three Joe Flacco passes, totaling 108 yards, led directly to all of Baltimore's 13 points, including Matt Stover's winning field goal with 53 seconds to play.

"I feel we did our job as a defense," Titans linebacker Keith Bulluck said. "The offense moved the ball. We just couldn't overcome turnovers. We didn't force any turnovers, and we couldn't overcome them. The plays where turnovers were made, that's where we score."

The Titans took a 7-0 lead on Chris Johnson's 8-yard touchdown run but quickly gave the lead back when Flacco found an open Derrick Mason between Titans defensive backs Harper and Chris Hope to tie the game at 7.

Perhaps it was the second quarter that played the biggest role in Tennessee's undoing. There was a 5-yard loss on a pass to Bo Scaife that knocked the Titans out of field-goal range. That was followed by a fourth-down fumbled snap in the shotgun to snuff out the drive.

There was Collins floating a pass that Samari Rolle intercepted at the 9-yard line, killing another potential field-goal shot. Finally, just before halftime, LenDale White made a first-down run to the 17 only to fumble, killing yet another scoring chance.

Normally reliable Rob Bironas could have given the Titans the lead in the third quarter but missed wide left on a 51-yard kick. Baltimore took a 10-7 lead on Stover's 21-yard field goal early in the fourth quarter, set up by Flacco's dying quail pass that Mark Clayton caught between Hope and Cortland Finnegan. It gave the Ravens first-and-goal at the 4.

The Titans would have other chances to score, most notably driving to the Ravens' 13 with nine minutes to play. Collins, who completed 26 of 42 passes for 281 yards, fired a pass to Alge Crumpler, who picked up the first down but was stripped of the football on a hit by Baltimore's Jim Leonhard. When Fabian Washington recovered at the 1, yet another Titans threat was over.

"Our shot was now, and we didn't get it (done)," Crumpler said. "I use we, because it's a team game, but I've never been in a situation where I felt like I hurt a team more than I hurt this team."

Still, the Titans had their chances. Flacco appeared to give Tennessee a safety by stepping on the end line on the series following Crumpler's fumble, but no call was made, and the Titans did not challenge.

They did manage Bironas' 27-yard field goal with 4:23 to play that tied the game at 10.

But with the Titans needing a stop at the 2:52 mark, fate and Flacco did them in. The rookie quarterback completed a 23-yard pass to Todd Heap for the first down, though the play clock was at zero before the ball was snapped and no delay penalty was called.

The gain was to the Titans' 45, and three plays later, Stover was lining up for the game-winner.

"The bottom line is you can't turn it over three times when you're in field-goal position against a team like that," Titans offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger said. "You can't fumble twice in the red zone and not get points out of it. That's what cost us the game."

Said defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth: "Hopefully, next year we just blow people out. We just keep people in the game too much."

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