OWINGS MILLS — Speaking in a soft voice barely above a whisper and wearing a sad look on his face with a sling supporting his right arm, Baltimore Ravens Pro Bowl outside linebacker Terrell Suggs cast serious doubt regarding his status for Sunday’s AFC title game.
Due to a damaged right shoulder that he injured against the Tennessee Titans, Suggs hasn’t practiced all week and is expected to be a game-time decision against the Pittsburgh Steelers. If Suggs manages to play, he might need to wear a special harness to hold the shoulder in place.
"I’m doing whatever I can, I have never missed a game here," said Suggs, who has appeared in 96 consecutive regular-season games. "So, I definitely don’t want to start with the AFC championship. I really can’t honestly answer the question for you. Come Sunday, we’ll see. .. It’s really painful."
Unlike his usual jovial interview style where topics involving alleged bounties on wide receiver Hines Ward or the rivalry with the hated Steelers would likely have dominated the conversation, a downcast Suggs was much more serious than usual and never cracked a smile. He almost seemed like he was on the verge of tears.
"This game is bigger than all that nonsense," Suggs said Thursday. "This game is 10 times bigger than cheap shots and playing with an injury or not playing with an injury. This game is that important. It’s so important that I would consider sitting out to win it."
However, it’s uncertain how bad Suggs’ shoulder actually is considering the ever-changing story surrounding the injury.
Days after vowing that he would play against the Steelers during postgame interviews in Nashville, Tenn., last Saturday, Suggs began expressing pessimism about his outlook.
He wasn’t seen wearing a sling Wednesday and seemed to be in pain while taking off his shirt with his left arm even though his right arm remained immobile. He wore the sling Thursday for his group interview, but wasn’t wearing it when he left the practice field earlier that day.
Could Suggs be sandbagging about the extent of the injury? Could Suggs, an enthusiastic movie buff who regularly plays the latest DVDs on the television at his locker, have been performing for the cameras on his own whim or someone else’s suggestion?
It’s not uncommon for NFL teams to go to great lengths to try to create confusion through the media on whether a star player is healthy enough to play.
This would be a somewhat elaborate ruse.
Suggs was vague when describing the injury, which is believed to be at least a partially dislocated shoulder. He didn’t detail the results of his magnetic resonance imaging exam.
"I can’t remember," Suggs said. "I was so distraught when they told me. It’s not good. It could be major ligament damage. We just have to wait and see."
Suggs admitted that there’s a risk of doing further damage to the shoulder.
"It’s a big chance that it could get worse especially if it’s a smash-mouth game," he said. "We’re not playing the Colts, we’re not playing a finesse team here. It’s going to be a physical game and they said, ‘There’s a chance you could aggravate it more than it already is.’"
Suggs injured his shoulder sacking Titans quarterback Kerry Collins. He awkwardly popped out his shoulder in the second quarter of the Ravens’ 13-10 win, but didn’t return.
"It’s the freakiest thing I’ve ever seen," Suggs said. "I looked at the play, and it didn’t look like anything tragic happened. I just knew I couldn’t do anything with it. I missed that game, but, hopefully, I can play for this one.”
Suggs said he doesn’t know if he’ll need to have surgery to repair the shoulder during the offseason. And he said he was optimistic about Sunday until he saw his MRI results.
"I was like, ‘Oh yeah, it’s just a little bruise, it’s not going to hurt come Wednesday,’" Suggs said. "Then, we got the MRI and it said something different. I messed it up."
If Suggs is sidelined, the Ravens will be missing a key component of the defense. He leads the team with eight sacks, registered a career-high 102 tackles and returned two interceptions for touchdowns.
It would take a committee approach to replace Suggs, including young linebackers Edgar Jones and Jameel McClain and reserve defensive end Marques Douglas.
"If I feel like me being out there will hinder us and that we would be playing with 10, then the decision is obvious: I can’t go," Suggs said. "I can possibly hurt my team by playing. If I’m not ready, then don’t throw me out there.”
Of course, if Suggs is able to play, there’s no guarantee that his shoulder will hold up. As he noted, he won’t know until the initial hit how it’s going to feel.
When asked if using a harness would allow him to play, Suggs replied: "I don’t know, I don’t know what kind of device they can have for me. I’m not a doctor. If they’re got something that can magically stop me from using my shoulder to tackle somebody then.."
The Ravens would like to have Suggs on the field even at less than his normal capabilities.
"If he’s close to being healthy, being 100 percent, and that might be 50, we’ll take him," defensive coordinator Rex Ryan said. "It’s funny because you see his personality, the kind of young man he is, and maybe you don’t think there’s a serious side to him.
"On Sundays, he’s all business. In the NFL, durability is probably as important as athletic ability. He’s got both of those traits."
Nonetheless, Suggs’ teammates are expecting him to be in the lineup.
"Oh yeah, of course," free safety Ed Reed said. "You would have to strap him down."
Added Ward: "Suggs, he’s a talent. Next to Ray Lewis and Ed Reed, he’s really their heart and soul. He’s the one who gets guys going. He’s got a constant motor and just doesn’t stop. I’ll bet anything he’s going to be on the field. There’s no way he can miss this game."
Months after dealing with the fallout of his comments about bounties on Ward and rookie running back Rashard Mendenhall by backing off those remarks after being admonished by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and vice president of football operations Ray Anderson, Suggs found himself reluctantly discussing the first major injury of his career.
"I didn’t even want to come talk to you guys," Suggs said. "This is the first time I’ve really been injured. Everybody plays hurt, anybody can play hurt, but there’s a good chance I possibly won’t even get to line up and play for the championship with my team. Not ever missing a game in the past and to make this my first one, it’s not really something I’m going to be happy about."