KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Standing inside the middle of the Baltimore Ravens’ locker room after playing a game with a heavy heart, free safety Ed Reed remained strong as he tried to hold back his tears.
His younger brother, Brian Reed, has been missing since jumping into the Mississippi River near New Orleans on Friday to elude police, and authorities have called off the search after finding his jacket and shoes.
It was a grim outcome for a grieving family dealing with a tragedy involving a troubled son who had struggled with drugs and alcohol.
Despite the difficult personal situation, Ed Reed opted to play in Sunday’s 30-7 playoff victory over the Kansas City Chiefs. Afterward, Reed was presented with the game ball on behalf of the team for his entire family.
"My family would really appreciate this," Reed said. "So would my brother. My brother would want us to beat Pittsburgh."
Reed said he leaned heavily on his religious faith, his teammates’ support and his older brother’s advice, providing him with the will to play despite the raw emotions he was experiencing.
"My older brother called me and told me, ‘Do what you do, you handle your business, we’ll take care of everything over here,’" Reed said. "It was a matter of being focused and being around my second family. I’m really thankful for all of the prayers from around the world and for the guys just being my teammates, just being a family and gathering around you and giving you strength.
"There’s a bigger picture to life than this child’s game we play here. These guys helped keep me focus and kept my head in the right place, and talking to my mom and my dad. I know they’re being strong right now."
Reed wasn’t the only one dealing with something serious.
Ravens linebackers coach Dean Pees’ sister died last week, and he missed two days of practice to be with his family.
Reed said he never considered not playing.
"It’s my job," he said. "At the end of the day, it’s all in God’s hands."
After intercepting four passes during the final two games of the regular season, Reed didn’t pick off erratic Chiefs quarterback Matt Cassel on Sunday.
However, the former NFL Defensive Player of the Year did smash into Chiefs rookie wide receiver Dexter McCluster with an emphatic tackle.
That energized the Ravens’ sideline.
"There isn’t a better teammate than Ed Reed," outside linebacker Terrell Suggs said. "He didn’t have to play, but he chose to play. It was a simple fact that we wanted to give him an outlet."
Teammates expressed amazement that the seven-time Pro Bowl selection was able to concentrate on the game after a terrible thing happened to his brother.
"It’s something you can’t explain," cornerback Lardarius Webb. "Me, myself, I’m not that tough. If I lost a loved one, I don’t think I could even be here. To lose someone that close and still come play the game he played, that’s all the more reason why I look up to him. He’s a strong man."
When the Ravens arrived in Kansas City on Saturday night, reserve safety Haruki Nakamura sent a text message to Reed who has mentored him since he was a rookie.
"I look up to him like he’s a third big brother to me," Nakamura said. "I told him if he needed to talk that I was there for him. And I told him that, ‘I know you’re playing with a heavy heart, but you’re Ed Reed. You’re still a guy who can change the game. Do it for the person you love.’ He had a great game."
The Ravens wanted to do anything they could to comfort Reed.
And he wound up giving them a lift with how he handled the adversity.
"What Ed is going through, what the Reed family is going through, was a big part of this victory," Ravens coach Harbaugh said. "I think that’s what will be remembered by our players. We’re a family, and the Reed family is part of the Raven family.
"For Ed to do what he did under the circumstances, to play the way he played, to lead the way he led, it’s just an incredible thing. It was a pretty emotional scene. That was for his brother. Our prayers are still with his brother for his safety, and may God hold him in the palm of his hand."
If Reed hadn’t wanted to play, that was fine with the Ravens organization.
"I was just concerned about if Ed was OK," Harbaugh said. "I wasn’t worried about how Ed would play or if he would play. If he doesn’t play, he doesn’t play. Family is first. Life is life, and it comes first. Give Ed a lot of credit."
As the Ravens begin preparations today for Saturday’s playoff game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, they’re hoping a lengthy playoff run gives Reed a welcome distraction.
"For now, you just want to keep him on the field as long as possible," wide receiver Derrick Mason said. "At least that gives him something else to think about."