OWINGS MILLS – The nearly deafening silence of Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Mark Clayton on the football field was broken Sunday night.
Involved in the offense in a significant way for the first time in nearly a month during a 20-17 overtime victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers, Clayton opened a few eyes and raised a few questions with his season-high seven receptions for 129 yards.
After catching a total of two passes in the previous three games for a paltry combined 25 yards, the former first-round draft pick from Oklahoma offered a reminder of what he’s capable of when given the opportunity.
Including a 54-yard bomb he gathered in on a high spiral from quarterback Joe Flacco, Clayton hauled in passes on seven of the 10 times he was targeted.
“I think it says a lot about Mark and some other guys, too, that have been in that situation where it’s tough,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “You don’t always get the ball as much as you want, don’t necessarily make all the catches you want to make, but Mark’s made big plays for us in the past.
“For him to come up, that is a tremendous accomplishment. The plays, they were big ones, especially the one down the left sideline. I think it says a lot about not just what kind of person he is, but what kind of player he is.”
With five games remaining in the final year of his contract, Clayton hasn’t had a very productive season.
He has caught 32 passes for 457 yards and two touchdowns, and he’s on pace to finish the season with 46 receptions for 664 yards.
When the Ravens use him and he catches the ball cleanly, Clayton remains a threat with an average of 14.3 yards per reception.
After weeks of offensive coordinator Cam Cameron and Flacco pushing the ball nearly exclusively to wide receiver Derrick Mason and running back Ray Rice, the workload was distributed for a change.
“That’s one thing we know as an offense: we have the ability to spread it around,” Clayton said. “When we are spreading it around, it’s tough for defenses to key on us. When we’re able to do that, we give our team the best chance to win the game.”
Especially when Clayton, who had a key drop at the end of the Ravens’ loss to the New England Patriots earlier this season, excels.
He leads the franchise with nine all-time 100-yard games, and the Ravens are 6-3 when he eclipses the century mark.
For his career, the Ravens are 4-0 on the road when he produces 100 receiving yards with a combined 24 receptions in those games for 509 yards and four touchdowns.
Which makes it curious why he wasn’t utilized more in a 17-15 loss to the Indianapolis Colts where he caught just one pass for 10 yards.
He didn’t catch a single pass in a 16-0 win over the Cleveland Browns.
And he was limited to one reception for 15 yards in a 17-7 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals.
His breakthrough game against the reigning Super Bowl champion Steelers marks his biggest game since catching five passes for 77 yards and a touchdown in the season opener against the Kansas City Chiefs.
On the long gain behind Steelers cornerback William Gay, Clayton streaked past him and Flacco had plenty of time to locate Clayton before safety Ryan Clark could close in on him.
“Clayton came up with a huge catch,” Mason said. “He came up big. They wanted to play him one-on-one and Joe and Mark took advantage of the opportunity.”
It doesn’t get easier this week for Clayton, though, heading into Monday night’s game against the Green Bay Packers
The Packers feature the NFL’s top-ranked defense, and cornerback Charles Woodson is having a terrific season with seven interceptions and four forced fumbles.
“We know what they have,” Clayton said. “They do a really good job in coverage and Woodson is an exceptional cornerback. It’s a great challenge and opportunity for us as we work to play our best on Monday.”
Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.