BALTIMORE — The gravitational pull of star free safety Ed Reed brought three more footballs into his powerful orbit, propelling the Baltimore Ravens to a trademark defensive victory Sunday night over the Washington Redskins.
Reed’s instincts, range and game-altering ability were on full display again in an edgy 24-10 win over the Redskins before 71,438 freezing fans for the largest crowd in franchise history at M&T Bank Stadium, a pivotal triumph that halted a seven-game losing streak in prime-time games.
“That guy is Superman for real,” Ravens wide receiver Derrick Mason said. “He’s truly one of a kind at his position. Nobody plays the position the way he plays it. I don’t think I’ve seen anyone in the last 10 years that plays the position the way Ed plays it.
“The guy roams the field like a hawk. Nothing gets past him. And I think he has four or five arms because it seems like wherever he goes he has a knack for making big plays, especially when we need it."
Not only did Reed’s fumble recovery for a touchdown and interception set up the Ravens’ first offensive score to stake the Ravens (9-4) to a two-touchdown advantage five minutes into the game, but his capitalistic prowess with a second interception in the closing minutes of the fourth quarter allowed Baltimore to remain one game behind the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC North title race.
“I think Ed Reed’s a great football player, and he’s a great leader,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “He’s got great game-changing impact. What else can you say? He’s been doing it for a lot of years.
“It goes beyond his ability to make plays. He’s not just making plays back there. He’s playing with tremendous discipline and he understands the offense he’s playing against. He’s been in position every single play for a lot of plays in a row.”
The Ravens’ seventh win in their past eight games sets up an all-important divisional showdown here next week when the Steelers (10-3) come to town following their epic comeback victory over the Dallas Cowboys. Despite a putrid showing from the offense, the Ravens’ defense was dominant enough to carry the weight of keeping Baltimore in sole possession of the sixth and final AFC playoff spot.
The Ravens finally put the Redskins away in the fourth quarter on rookie quarterback Joe Flacco’s 28-yard touchdown pass to Mason. Against a man-to-man coverage scheme, Mason spun away from cornerback Carlos Rogers on a double move and burst toward the end zone to cap a 12-play, 83-yard drive that lasted nearly eight minutes.
The decisive drive ended a string of 10 unanswered points by the Redskins as bullish fullback Le’Ron McClain had 10 of the Ravens’ 11 consecutive runs to generate 44 yards prior to the touchdown pass
“Eleven straight runs and then we hit the pass against zero coverage, I think that says a lot about the character and the toughness, the physicality of our football team,” Harbaugh said. “So, we’re real proud of this victory.”
Offensive coordinator Cam Cameron set up Flacco’s touchdown by emphasizing the run to draw the risky outside coverage he was looking for.
“Cam talked about it, he predicted they would be in zero coverage at that time, and, all of a sudden, they jumped into zero coverage,” Harbaugh said. “My thoughts were, ‘They’re in zero coverage.’ You could see it, and I was real happy.
“It was a double-route, and Mason just sold it. He sold it, and their corner jumped it and he was wide open and Joe put it on the money.”
McClain’s bruising approach left a dent in the Redskins’ front seven as he pounded away in the fourth quarter for the tough yards his team needed.
"When you’ve got somebody 260 pounds, gracious to Le’Ron, more like 270, when you’ve got somebody that big running downhill at you, you get tired of tackling and you try to slowly but surely try to bring that eighth and ninth man into the box," Mason said. "You’ve got to give it up to Le’Ron because he had pretty much carried that whole drive for us and allowed us at the end to throw a pass."
Added McClain: "On that last drive, we showed our mentality, which is being the most physical team in the league."
Following the touchdown, Reed intercepted Redskins quarterback Jason Campbell on a deep pass over the middle intended for tight end Chris Cooley with two minutes remaining.
The former NFL Defensive Player of the Year was characteristically modest about his performance.
“I’m just trying to come out and do my job and be where I was supposed to be and help the team win anyway that I can,” Reed said. “As a defense, we knew their offense pretty well. It was just a matter of communicating and being on the same page and making plays.”
In the past three games, Reed has overwhelmed offenses with four interceptions, one fumble recovery and two touchdowns.
When asked if Reed deserved to be in the NFL Most Valuable Player conversation, Harbaugh replied: “I would say so. I don’t see how you can not put him in there. He scores on defense. He makes plays every single week. If he’s not an MVP candidate, I don’t know who is.”
Despite the icy conditions with temperatures in the 20s with a wind chill in the low teens, the Redskins made the Ravens sweat in the fourth quarter.
Campbell threw a five-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Antwaan Randle El on fourth-and-goal over the middle. It broke the Ravens’ defensive streak of 13 consecutive quarters without allowing a touchdown, a string of 46 consecutive possessions.
That closed the gap to 17-10 following ineffective running back Willis McGahee’s costly fumble when Redskins safety LaRon Landry bashed into him and the football skidded into the hands of cornerback DeAngelo Hall. The Ravens challenged the ruling, but the call was upheld following an instant-replay review.
McGahee left the game with a shoulder stinger suffered on the big hit, and the Ravens turned to McClain to close the resilient Redskins out.
Earlier in the Redskins’ aborted comeback attempt, Flacco threw into heavy traffic for an interception to Landry returned to the Ravens’ 26-yard line with one minute remaining in the third quarter. Then, kicker Shaun Suisham booted a 42-yard field goal to close the Ravens’ advantage to 17-3.
The outcome of the game was nearly decided in the span of the opening five minutes, a span dominated by Reed.
Three plays into this contest and Reed was already on a tear.
Outside linebacker Terrell Suggs harassed Campbell, banging into his arm and the football just as he was following through in his throwing motion.
It turned into a pop fly, careening high into the air with Reed playing center field and accelerating forward to make a shoe-string catch with his fingertips.
“That tipped ball for the first pick, that was just somebody else making a play and me doing my job,” Reed said.
The Ravens struck quickly off the turnover.
Following a 26-yard Flacco completion to Derrick Mason and a darting 21-yard cutback run from rookie running back Ray Rice punctuated by a crushing block from right offensive guard Chris Chester, McClain rumbled up the middle for an eight-yard touchdown and a 7-0 lead behind center Jason Brown and Chester’s interference. It was McClain’s team-high eighth score of the season.
"It felt good just running north and south doing my job," McClain said. "They couldn’t stop me. That’s my mentality. When I’m getting up, I’m telling them I’m coming back."
Two series later, Redskins running back Clinton Portis attempted to challenge the Ravens up the middle. After an 11-yard gain, Reed loosened Portis’ grip by ripping at the football and catching the fumble on one hop and scampered 22 yards into the end zone for his third touchdown of the season and the 11th of his career.
It was the seventh defensive touchdown of Reed’s career.
Redskins coach Jim Zorn challenged the call and asked for a review of whether Portis was down by contact, but an instant replay review upheld the call and determined that Portis had lost control moments before his right elbow hit the ground.
“I was still kind of jogging and I didn’t know if they were going to blow a whistle or not,” Reed said. “Once they don’t blow a whistle, we’re taught to finish the play. I was trying to rip the ball out. I was going for it a little bit and it came out.”
The Ravens generated precious little offense as Flacco was erratic and completed just 2 of his first nine passes for 56 yards in the first half, and running back Willis McGahee was completely ineffective with a fumbled pitch out of bounds and a lost fumble, a dropped pass and just seven yards on his first four carries.
Flacco finished the game 10 of 21 for 134 yards, one touchdown and one interception for a 64.4 quarterback rating.
"You’re not going to go out there and complete every pass," Harbaugh said. "The key is to not go on a roller-coaster ride. Stay even. Joe does a great job of that."
Nonetheless the defense provided more than enough resistance to the Redskins.
By halftime, Campbell had been knocked to the ground several times by Suggs and blitzing safety Jim Leonhard. Campbell had completed just 11 of his first 21 passes for 128 yards and a 51.3 rating.
And Portis gained just 32 yards on 11 carries, absorbing big shots from middle linebacker Ray Lewis who was credited with 13 tackles, one sack, three tackles for losses and two quarterback hits.
Undrafted rookie linebacker Jameel McClain partially blocked a Ryan Plackemeier punt in the first quarter, sailing forward 21 yards.
Suggs was dominant, sacking Campbell to move ahead of retired defensive end Michael McCrary to rank second in franchise history with 51 ½ career sacks.
"We’re a defense that feeds off each other," Suggs said. "Let’s just see if we can keep chugging away."
In the third quarter, the Ravens’ offense woke up from its slumber momentarily. On a 14-play, 65-yard drive that lasted 10 minutes and 49 seconds, kicker Matt Stover capped the march with a 32-yard field goal.
McGahee, who was a healthy scratch last week due to repeated violations of team rules, started the game. However, he managed just 31 yards on 11 carries.
Nonetheless, the Ravens are in prime position as they head into next week’s critical game against the Steelers. With three games remaining in the regular season, the Ravens are one game ahead of the New England Patriots (8-5) and the Miami Dolphins (8-5) for the final AFC playoff spot.
"I love where we’re at, and it’s not just because of the record," Mason said. "It’s because of the attitude that the guys have. We’ve bought into what the coaches are preaching, and guys are having fun. Regardless of wins and losses, we know that we’re going to go out there each and every week and fight hard."
Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.