When Jason McCourty watched the AFC championship game back in January, there was no doubt about his rooting interest.
The Tennessee Titans cornerback wanted to see his twin brother’s team, the New England Patriots, win.
It did not turn out that way but McCourty — and everyone else who watched — did see what many considered the most violent hit of the 2012 season.
Baltimore Ravens safety Bernard Pollard forced a fumble when he knocked running back Steven Ridley unconscious with a legal, fourth-quarter hit. The Ravens, ahead by eight at the time, recovered and converted the takeaway into a touchdown that effectively put the game out of reach and continued their march to their second Super Bowl win.
“It was a little brutal but that’s what this game is about,” McCourty said. “It’s hard-nosed. It’s physical and [Pollard] brings that aspect to the game.”
Now he has brought it to the Titans as well.
Throughout free agency and the draft coaches and franchise officials looked for players who could help make the team tougher. They were happy to add guys renowned for their nastiness to both the offense and defense, particularly after a season in which they were last in the league in time of possession, finished last in the league in points allowed and had fewer first downs rushing than all but three other teams.
Pollard was the leading practitioner of violence among the 12 free agent additions. Center Brian Schwenke, a fourth-round draft pick, was most notable in that regard among the eight draft picks.
“I think the best offensive linemen have a little bit of nastiness in them,” Schwenke said. “I don’t think you are going to find the best offensive linemen who are nice guys on the field. It is not going to happen.
“… It is very natural when it comes to football. Off the field, I’m real calm and a real nice guy, but when it comes to on the field and playing football it happens very easily and very naturally.”
Schwenke was the second of two offensive linemen Tennessee drafted. The first was first-round draft choice Chance Warmack, who also has a reputation for rugged play.
“He is going to bring a physical aspect to the offensive line,” offensive line coach Bruce Matthews said. “It’s going to carry over and it gets contagious and that’s what you really hope for, especially with having a lot of options with veteran guys that we signed as free agents and the young talent coming in.”
Warmack’s and Schwenke’s reputations mean nothing to the rest of the league at this point. Each must prove himself at the NFL level in the years to come.
Pollard, on the other hand, has done it for seven years and three different franchises. He has forced at least one fumble every year of his career and as many as four in a single season.
“He’s a guy with Super Bowl experience,” defensive end Kamerion Wimbley said. “I think having him on our team will definitely change the mindset. And you do need to play aggressive in the league, in my opinion.”
The Titans were tied for 20th in the NFL, with Arizona and Philadelphia, with 13 forced fumbles last season. Neither of those three teams made the playoffs. The same was true for six of the 10 teams that finished with fewer than 13.
Oddly, the Ravens finished with 10, fewer than all but three teams. Pollard was responsible for one.
In the postseason, though, Baltimore forced five, which was one more than the other five AFC playoff teams combined. One was unforgettable, except perhaps for Ridley, who sustained a concussion when Pollard drilled him.
“You look at the way [Pollard] plays the game – that game last year during the playoffs at New England he got a shot at Ridley and kind of just took him out,” McCourty said. “… That’s the object of the game — tackle the ball carrier. So when you can do so and cause fumbles and cause those big hits it gets the crowd involved, it gets the guys on the sideline involved and morale is up.”
It also gives future opponents something to consider.
“You do need to have an identity so when guys face you they know what to expect,” Wimbley said. “It’s a rough game and you have to play the game hard. I think [Pollard] is one of those players that has a reputation of going out and playing physical. I think it’s great to have those guys on your team.”