He was a blur on the football field, hitting everything in sight. He was barking at everyone within earshot, too. And when he is playing his game by pounding his opponents, no Raven might exemplify physical football more.
No, I’m not talking about Ray Lewis, who is the emotional tone-setter of a Ravens defense that has defeated future Hall of Famers Peyton Manning and Tom Brady and one of their leading heirs apparent, Andrew Luck.
With all due respect to Lewis, again a tackling machine Sunday but obviously and understandably not the same punishing hitter he was in his prime, the physical tone-setter of this rejuvenated unit has become strong safety Bernard Pollard, one of the NFL’s most feared hitters -- especially up north in New England.
Pollard was a Patriot-seeking missile in the AFC championship game, and he added running back Stevan Ridley to the list of notable Patriots skill players whom he has terminated from a game in recent seasons. His loud and legal hit in the open field knocked Ridley out, jarred the football loose and changed the complexion of a game the Patriots were still very much in despite trailing the Ravens by eight points in the fourth quarter.
“That was the turning point of the game,” coach John Harbaugh said. “That was the turning point of the football game there on the 40-yard-line. It was just a tremendous hit. It was football at its finest. It was Bernard Pollard making a great physical tackle -- just as good a tackle as you’re ever going to see in football right there.”
Pollard was relatively quiet, at least when it came to the thwack of plastic on plastic, for a big chunk of the regular season as he played through a chest injury he suffered in Week 2 and, when aggravated later in the season, kept him out of the final three regular season games. But for the first five quarters of this season -- I know that was so, so long ago -- Pollard was playing like a madman and was the team’s best defender.
He looked like -- and sounded like -- that guy again Sunday.
Pollard was credited with nine tackles, four of them solo. He knocked down a pass. He nearly knocked down Tom Brady on another play. And he forced a fumble with a violent hit on Ridley that echoed all the way to San Francisco. Between the white lines, this guy is totally crazy, and I very much mean that as a compliment.
And there was Monday afternoon at The Castle, standing at a podium, his young daughter hanging on his leg, calmly yet somehow still intensely talking about how he sent another Patriots player hobbling off the field.
“I can care less what people have to say. This is a violent sport. We run fast. We hit hard. Guys are big, and they’re getting bigger and quicker year-in and year-out,” said Pollard, who signed with the Ravens before the 2011 season. “I think for me, I love to play this game. I love to tackle. That’s what I do. When you’ve got two guys running full-speed at each other and you have helmets and shoulder pads on, somebody’s going to go down. It’s not something I’m proud of. After the game, like I said, I really do hope he’s all right and we’ll see.”
The girl in braids stirred as he ranted about how the Ravens had rediscovered their swagger defensively.
“We are a lot healthier than we were,” he said. “And then, going into these playoffs, it’s just been exciting for us, because you look at this team, we know and understood how it felt last year walking off the field. That was a sour, sour taste. We didn’t like that at all. … Heading into the playoffs, we were not going to be denied.”
And they aren’t likely to be denied against the San Francisco 49ers if Pollard and his peers stick to their smash-mouth roots, the ones that Lewis first engrained in this unit when he took over the Ravens defense back in 1996, and continue to clobber any enemy ball-carrier who stands in their way of the Lombardi Trophy.
The 49ers, with a strong defense and a physical offensive line, can lay the lumber, too. And Pollard can’t wait.
“We’re chilling today. We’re going to obviously chill tomorrow,” the 28-year-old said. “We’re going to see what’s happening on Wednesday [in practice], but we gotta roll. We gotta get going. Coach is going to do a good job as far as in practice kind of lightening things up, whatever. But we’re facing a team, they come to kill.”
And so does Pollard, who would soon stroll out of The Castle, his wife and two children skipping at his side.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun