OWINGS MILLS – Immortalized forever on video, the image flashes across the screen of a football barreling toward Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Mark Clayton.
Standing on the New England Patriots’ five-yard line and facing quarterback Joe Flacco, an open Clayton allowed a nearly perfect spiral to ricochet off his chest.
Specifically, it hit the right numeral of his No. 89 jersey before falling to the ground.
The crucial drop during the Ravens’ 27-21 loss on Oct. 4 at Gillette Stadium came on fourth-and-four with 28 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter, halting a last-minute comeback attempt.
Heading into Sunday’s AFC wild-card game in Foxborough, Mass., Clayton is eager for another chance to make that catch this time around.
“I always say that I want to be the guy,” Clayton said. “If we need a play in the game, throw it to me. That’s my mindset, that’s my mentality. It’s just the next game, it’s a playoff game. It’s a big game for us, and we want to win it.”
If Clayton had hauled in that pass, he wouldn’t find himself on a constant loop of replays this week on national networks hyping up Sunday’s rematch.
The unwanted focus doesn’t seem to bother Clayton. He emphasized several times that he hasn’t been dwelling on the miscue.
And he’s not offended that the play from months ago is garnering so much attention.
“For me, that’s the play that lost us the game,” Clayton said. “So, no, that doesn’t bother me. That’s cool. They’re doing their job. They have to analyze the game.
“It’s a game that’s already been played, so obviously they’re going to go back and talk about what had already happened to speculate about this game coming up. That’s their job, so it doesn’t bother me.”
A former first-round draft pick from Oklahoma, Clayton has caught 34 passes for 480 yards and two touchdowns.
Although he only has one game with more than five receptions this season, the Ravens remain confident in him.
“Hey, you always have second chances,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “If it were perfect the first time around, it’s never that way. There are always things you can improve. All our guys feel that way about every game.”
While he’s not upset anymore about what transpired, the surprise hasn’t left Clayton’s system.
He still can’t believe he didn’t grab the football with his reliable hands instead of trying to cushion the football against his chest.
It was a rare fundamental breakdown.
“Yeah, I was super shocked,” Clayton said. “For a time, just disbelief. That didn’t really just happen, did it? But it did.”
Clayton would never point it out, but there were other game-changing plays in that loss.
Outside linebacker Terrell Suggs and defensive tackle Haloti Ngata were flagged for debatable roughing-the-passer penalties that set up a pair of Patriots touchdowns.
Flacco was intercepted in the red zone when he wasn’t on the same page with wide receiver Derrick Mason in the second quarter.
And the defense allowed Randy Moss to extend the Patriots’ lead to 10 points in the third quarter with a 14-yard touchdown catch.
A supportive locker room refused to blame an accountable Clayton for the loss even while he was heaping blame on himself.
“Our guys are cool,” Clayton said. “Collectively, our mindset is so much about moving on and going on to the next thing. The minute you sit and hold onto something that’s in the past, you can’t receive whatever’s in the future.”
Since that moment, Clayton said he has grown from the experience as painful as it has been.
When he lines up Sunday, he said his mind will be clear from any lingering thoughts about the costly drop.
“For me, I guess the maturity through my experience in football and being able to take responsibility in life and football, yeah, I grew from it,” Clayton said. “Just knowing why you play the game, why you’re here and knowing your purpose for what you’re doing, you understand why things happen and how they happen. You know that you have to move forward because ultimately there’s a destination for you in your life.”
Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.