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NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Ovie Mughelliâ€™s singular reputation heading into Sunday’s football game was as a rugged blocking fullback and special-teams ace. Dennis Haley was even more obscure as the linebacker was relegated to the Baltimore Ravensâ€™ practice squad until seven-time All-Pro middle linebacker Ray Lewisâ€™ sore back created a pressing need for him on the active roster. By the end of the Ravensâ€™ 27-26 victory over the Tennessee Titans at LP Field, both players had generated new lasting impressions with their respective contributions.
Mughelli scored the first touchdown of his four-year NFL career, taking a swing pass from quarterback Steve McNair 30 yards into the end zone in the second quarter to launch a comeback from a 26-7 deficit as he scored the first of the Ravens’ 20 unanswered points.
Meanwhile, Haley chipped in on an emergency basis when Lewisâ€™ backup, Mike Smith, hurt his shoulder by recording a career-high nine tackles one day after being promoted from the practice squad.
â€œIt was very surreal,â€ Mughelli said afterward. â€œThe feeling after waiting four years to score a touchdown is hard to describe. Itâ€™s pure joy. I was walking on air the rest of the game.â€
On the score, Mughelli caught the pass as a secondary option for McNair in the flat. Then, the former Wake Forest star ran past stumbling linebacker David Thornton. Mughelli bursted up the left sideline with surprising speed for a 6-foot-1, 255-pounder.
â€œI faked inside and went out,â€ Mughelli said. â€œI just turned it up once I saw the goal line. I just started pumping my feet so hard and I got into the end zone.
â€œIt was nice not contributing just from blocking or through special teams, but actually through scoring. I looked up at the scoreboard and thought, â€˜I put those seven points up on the board.’ I hope this allows coach to make some plays up for me.â€
With Lewis sidelined for the first time this season and Smith getting hurt on the Titansâ€™ first offensive series after Tennessee rolled up rushing yardage through and around him, Haley got his unexpected shot.
It came just one day after his big promotion and the Ravens released reserve offensive lineman Ikechuku Ndukwe.
â€œThe opportunity came, and Iâ€™m just blessed that it came,â€ said Haley, an undrafted free agent from the University of Virginia. â€œI went out there and got to be a part of this team. Just from the circumstances that I was in and then to get activated and now Iâ€™m playing, itâ€™s unbelievable.â€
The Ravensâ€™ second-ranked run defense allowed a season-high 162 rushing yards in Lewisâ€™ absence as Titans running back Travis Henry gained 107 rushing yards on 27 carries to emerge as the first 100-yard rusher against them this season and the first since Houston Texans runner Domanick Davis gained 155 yards against them last December in Baltimore.
â€œWithout Ray, we were making up defenses on the fly,â€ defensive end Trevor Pryce said.
And without Haley making some key tackles in the open field, the situation could have gotten even worse.
â€œOur inside linebacker went down in the first series and we were scrambling,â€ linebacker Bart Scott said. â€œWe had to bring up a guy, who, for the first eight weeks, he was on the practice squad.
â€œHe thought he was going to be serving in a special-teams capacity, but he ended up having to be our starting linebacker after not taking any snaps on defense this year. Some people were forced to step up that we never expected to come up.â€
Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times in Westminster, Maryland