Ed Reed took a special game and made it unforgettable.
The walking highlight reel of a safety made the Ravens’ biggest play at the most critical time, returning a last-second interception for a touchdown to preserve the Ravens’ 27-13 victory over Cleveland.
Don’t let the score fool you. It may have been the closest 14-point game in team history.
Down a touchdown with less than 30 seconds remaining, the Browns (3-5) had the ball on the Ravens’ (5-3) 5-yard line, facing second-and-goal.
Browns quarterback Jeff Garcia, who had rallied his team and put them in a position to win the game, saw tight end Aaron Shea streaking across the middle of the field at the goal line.
He threw a perfect pass, but Shea, who was covered closely by Ray Lewis, had it bounce off his hands and into the grasp of Reed. An NFL-record 106 yards later, Reed was celebrating in the end zone. His play saved the game, and possibly the Ravens’ playoff hopes.
“It was definitely a blessing and a miracle if you knew what happened the whole play,” said Reed. “Ray tells me where I’m supposed to [be]…to get the ball. It was a great tip by Ray, and I just caught it.”
Reed could have downed the ball and the Ravens would have won just the same, but he saw an opening on the right side, beat the Browns to the edge and outran everyone to the end zone.
According to cornerback Gary Baxter, since Reed decided to take it out, he sure had better go the whole way.
“He scared me a little bit,” Baxter said with a laugh. “I wanted him to take a knee, but he took it out. If he had dropped that ball, I would have skinned him alive.”
Thanks to a sterling special teams performance in the game’s final 59 minutes, 46 seconds, the Ravens were in position to win, even if it was by the skin of their teeth.
The unit had bad start – giving up a 93-yard return for a touchdown to Richard Alston on the game’s opening kickoff – but finished strong and kept the Ravens in the game.
Kicker Matt Stover kicked four field goals – all in the first half – and punter Dave Zastudil had the play of the game, until Reed stole the show.
With the Ravens trailing 13-12 early in the fourth quarter, Zastudil placed a punt inside the Browns’ 5-yard line. Playmaker B.J. Sams made a diving save, throwing the ball out of the end zone before he or it hit the ground, and Chad Williams downed it at the 1.
The Browns challenged the ruling, but it stood.
On the ensuing possession, the Ravens’ defense was tenacious, allowing just one yard on three plays, and the Browns had to punt from their own end zone.
Then, with the pressure of the end line behind him and the Ravens’ punt block team closing around him, Browns punter Derrick Frost had the ultimate shank – kicking it just seven yards.
Three Jamal Lewis runs later, the Ravens were in the end zone. Lewis, who was playing in his first game in nearly a month, lowered his shoulder on third-and-goal from the 2 and powered his way in.
“It was nice to get the ball three times in a row,” said Lewis, who had 81 yards on 22 carries. “It showed we have confidence in the run. We punched it in the end zone.”
After a two point conversion – in which Kyle Boller connected on a perfectly-thrown jump-ball to Clarence Moore – the Ravens put the game in the hands of their defense, which turned in another stellar game.
Entering the game, the Ravens’ defense ranked first in the NFL in scoring (14.3 points per game). They allowed 13.
They ranked seventh in the NFL in yards allowed (290). They gave up 217.
“The thing we do is trust,” Lewis said. “We really just trust each other. That’s really our philosophy. It doesn’t get any more complicated than that.”
With each passing game, Boller earns more trust from his teammates. He turned in another solid game that will never get the headlines, but put his team in position to win.
Boller completed 57 percent of his passes for 142 yards, but did not throw an interception for the fifth time in eight games and led the Ravens on three consecutive scoring drives to end the first half.
“You want to score touchdowns, but to get those three points is awful huge,” Boller said. “We kind of started out a little bit slow, but as the game went, we went better.”
The same can be said about their season. Since a season-opening loss to Cleveland, the Ravens have won five of their last seven contests, even with Pro Bowlers Todd Heap and Jonathan Ogden missing multiple games.
At the halfway mark, they trail Pittsburgh (7-1) by two games, but with a head-to-head still looming next month, the Ravens want to stay within shouting distance to make a move when their principals return.
“Hopefully we just keep going,” said head coach Brian Billick. “Hopefully we don’t have to do that too much longer.”
I must say that Ed Reed and Ben Roethlisberger are should have been the first two draft picks.
Ed Reed has opened up many eyes as rookie. Weather it is on defensive or on special teams. Reed is playing with flashes of pro bowl ability.
Expect great things from this kid.