Every player in the NFL will tell you that injuries are inevitable and the team’s mantra has to be, ‘Next man up.’ But how many of us really feel comfortable with this? For every Tom Brady (for Drew Bledsoe), Arian Foster (for Steve Slaton), DeMarco Murray (for Felix Jones) there are ten times as many failures who at best fill an unceremonious role as career backups. Unfortunately these players fall into obscurity and much to the chagrin of Brad Pitt’s Achilles in Troy, “No one will remember [their] name.”
I believe in next man up. It is essential to winning in the NFL. Just look at the aforementioned Tom Brady, he came in and won the Super Bowl. Look at Ben Roethlisberger in 2006, or Trent Dilfer back in 2000, or how about the entire Packer’s team last year — they were decimated by injury but guys stepped up. Injuries are key to building depth. Every player in the NFL has ability but it is experience, which allows them to contribute on Sundays.
With Ray Lewis injured, other guys are getting their chance. McClain is doing a terrific job taking over Ray’s spot. His play the last two weeks, and really the whole season, is giving the Castle confidence that their may be an heir apparent at inside linebacker. But Ray Lewis is so much more than an inside linebacker – he is the leader — he is the face of the franchise — he is the heart and sole of the team. Therefore his absence creates voids that other players do not.
With McClain taking over the physical play, Terrell Suggs and Ed Reed are taking over the intangibles that Lewis brings to the team.
Reed makes on the fly adjustments and calls out the offense’s plays before they come. He makes game-changing plays and game-breaking hits. Reed mentors his teammates and gives impassioned speeches before the game (If you never saw Reed’s half-time speech on youtube — now is the time. It’s from when he played at the University of Miami. It is guaranteed to fire you up).
But Reed is not alone, Suggs has appointed himself third in command. On the field he is good for at least three big plays every week. Even when not recording a sack, he’ll blow up a screen play, set the edge on a running play, or take up a double team to free up another pass rusher. He sets the tempo for effort in big games and tries to put the game on his shoulders.
At the beginning of the season, the line coming out of Baltimore was there is something special about this team…. It’s that guys are stepping up. There are so many contributors who have elevated their game this year. It’s freakish really.
Let’s do the list: Torrey Smith, Lardarius Webb, Cary Williams, Pernell McPhee, Paul Kruger, Jameel McClain, Terrence Cody, Ed Dickson, Dennis Pitta. Even Albert McClellan last week, Danny Gorrer earlier this year, or how about veterans Bryant McKinney, Andre Gurode, Vonta Leach, and Bernard Pollard. That’s not even mentioning the elevated play of Joe Flacco who brought to you such victories as the series sweep of the Pittsburg Steelers, the second-half comeback against the Arizona Cardinals, and the third quarter 17-play drive to win the Harbaugh Bowl.
The pieces of this team are falling into place. Key players not-yet-mentioned are poised for a breakout performance like a Lee Evans or maybe even dare-I-say-it a Sergio Kindle (I predict playing time for him in week 17 against the Bungles because we’ll have wrapped up home-field advantage by then). This team is focused. They have an edge to them now that December is here. There will be no let down – been there done that. The only way we lose on Sunday is if the other team steps on our throats and takes it from us. Though Christmas is coming there will be no more gifts this year. Every game is too important. There are too many veteran leaders on this team like Jarrett Johnson, Anquan Boldin, and Haloti Ngata to let the team slide in a tight race where every game counts.
Just before the 49ers game Terrell Suggs stood in a circle of his teammates and yelled up to the heavens, “We have yet to paint our sistine chapel, we have yet to put on the best show we can do. Let’s go! We will execute! We will dominate! Let’s go! This is our game!”
Our sistine chapel will not be completed until the beginning of February in Indianapolis with confetti in the air, a Lombardi trophy hoisted to the sky, and the Green Bay Packers sullen on the sidelines licking their wounds.
Art is a process and so is our season. With every win we get one step closer to completing our masterpiece – this 2012 season could be something special. Here’s to a three-game winning streak, here’s to exercising the demons.
“They gonna give us the respect we deserve. Or we’re gonna take it by force.” So here’s to Suggs continued ascension up the ranks as the Raven’s leader, go-to playmaker, and hopefully defensive MVP.