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Bernard Pollard might not be irreplaceable, but he has become a valuable piece of this defense.
With all due respect to Haloti Ngata and Lardarius Webb, you could make a pretty strong argument that strong safety Bernard Pollard was Baltimores best defender for the first five quarters of the season. Pollard recorded six tackles and broke up two passes in the win over the Cincinnati Bengals, including one play where he hung with star Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green before batting a pass away. And then for 15 minutes against the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday, Pollard was an absolute madman, making plays all over the field. He had an interception in the end zone, made four tackles -- including a jarring and totally clean hit on Brent Celek that tested the limits of the tight end's chinstrap -- and sacked Michael Vick just before the end of the quarter. But on the play Pollard fell victim to -- in his words, "friendly fire" -- rookie linebacker Courtney Upshaw landed on Pollard's left side at the end of the sack. Pollard suffered a rib contusion and did not return to the game. His absence made a difference in the 24-23 loss.
Ravens coach John Harbaugh said he thought that reserve safety James Ihedigbo played well in his place, but he conceded that "missing a guy like that is going to be a factor." I'll say. With Pollard gingerly pacing on the sideline for the most of the afternoon, the Ravens allowed 486 total yards to the Eagles and Celek had a monster game with 157 of them on eight catches (though to be fair, he had four catches for 68 yards before Pollard got injured). As Vick bought time in the pocket throughout the afternoon, it was Celek who was able to find soft spots in the Ravens defense, including twice during the Eagles' game-winning touchdown drive.
You could tell that Pollard, who could linebacker give Ray Lewis a run for his money in the intensity department, desperately wanted to get back in the game. When the Ravens came out for the second half, he picked up his helmet and carried it for a minute before eventually setting it back down and taking a seat on the bench. Harbaugh said the pain was simply too much for Pollard to bear.
"Ain't nothing broke," Pollard told us after the game. "I kind of know when something is broke or whatever. This is just the painful part not being able to go out there and help my boys."
Now the question this week will be whether Pollard is able to go out and help his boys Sunday night against Tom Brady and the New England Patriots. Most of the Ravens players have revenge on their minds after last season's AFC championship game, and Pollard also doesn't shy away from his reputation as a "Patriots killer" after his role in injuries to Brady, wide receiver Wes Welker and tight end Rob Gronkowski the past few seasons. The Ravens will need his energy out there. With Terrell Suggs out, Pollard has become one of the team's emotional leaders on the field, with his big hits and big talk setting the tone for the defense. And he has actually become a valuable player not just against the run, but as a pass defender as well. That was the knock on Pollard when he was in Kansas City and then Houston, that he was a liability in coverage. But he has been a great fit in Baltimore, where any shortcomings in that regard have yet to really be exposed, and he has been the yin to Ed Reed's yang. The Ravens desperately need him in the lineup against Brady and the Patriots -- and it would be huge if he picked up where he left off at the end of the first quarter Sunday. Asked at his locker whether he could play against the Patriots, Pollard sounded encouraged.
"Oh, c'mon now," Pollard said, scanning the room. "I'm never going to leave my dogs hanging."
September 16, 2012