The Ravens stamped themselves as a contender inthis year's playoff race yesterday with another historicrun by Ed Reed.
The Pro Bowl free safety broke his NFL recordwith an 108-yard interception return for a touchdown,highlighting the Ravens' 36-7 rout of the PhiladelphiaEagles before 71,379 at M&T Bank Stadium.
Reed's runback in the fourth quarter eclipsed hisprevious record -- 106 yards in November 2004 --and gave the Ravens a platform to declare themselvesa major contender in the AFC postseasonhunt.
"We're on a mission," said Reed, whose two interceptionscontributed to the Ravens' season-best fivetake-aways. "It's to get to the next level and the playoffs.I'm not satisfied until we get to the Super Bowland win it."
The Ravens (7-4) won for the fifth time in sixgames and kept themselves within one game of theAFC North-leading Pittsburgh Steelers (8-3).
But the statement wasn't that the Ravens beat theEagles (5-5-1). It was how they beat them.
In the first half, the defense hammered the Eaglesso hard that quarterback Donovan McNabb wasbenched. In the fourth quarter, the Ravens delivered24 points that caused the rest of the Eagles to call itquits.
No play in the fourth quarter was bigger thanReed's dramatic return.
With the Ravens ahead 22-7, Reed picked off Philadelphiabackup quarterback Kevin Kolb in the endzone and immediately broke up the sideline.
Reed made his first cutback to sidestep Kolb andthen pushed running back Brian Westbrook off to theside. He eluded a diving tackle by lineman Todd Herremans,leaving one more Eagle to beat.
After faking out tight end Brent Celek at the Philadelphia20-yard line, Reed jaunted the rest of the wayfor his 10th career touchdown.
"I might be a little biased, [but] he's one of thegreatest football players I've seen," linebacker RayLewis said of Reed.
The most intriguing part of the record-setting runcame before Reed touched the ball.
Philadelphia had second-and-goal at the Ravens'1-yard line, which seemed to suggest the Eagleswould run the ball. But backup safety Haruki Nakamurapointed out to Reed that wide receiver ReggieBrown, instead of a tight end, was lining up at theend of the line, tipping Philadelphia's hand that apass was coming.
Remaining patient, Reed kept his eye on Brownrunning his route before running in front of him tomake his 37th career interception, tops in team history.
"The quarterback never even saw me come frombehind," said Reed, who ended an eight-game interceptiondrought (the second-longest of his seven-yearcareer).
The touchdown offered some redemption forReed.
In the second quarter, Reed intercepted McNabband ran 43 yards to the Philadelphia 6, where he surprisinglytried to flip the ball to cornerback SamariRolle in a crowd.
Reed's lateral was ruled an illegal forward pass, apenalty that was offset by a personal foul on Eagleslineman Jon Runyan. Three plays later, the Ravensconverted Reed's interception into a touchdownwhen Daniel Wilcox made a one-handed catch in theend zone to put the Ravens up 10-0.
"It was a terrible pitch," Reed said. "I usually don'tlateral the ball that bad."
Asked whether coach John Harbaugh had to talkto Reed about his mistake, Reed said: "I kind of wentup to him and said, 'My bad.' In certain situations,you're supposed to have the ball tucked."
Instead of criticizing Reed, Harbaugh only applaudedhim after the game and pointed out howReed affected the victory even more.
In the third quarter, Reed lined up over the slot onthe punt team, which drew the attention of the Eagles' blocking to the outside. That opened a clearpath for Jameel McClain, who ran unblocked up themiddle to block the punt and record a safety.
So, Reed played a role in 16 points being scored(the touchdown the Ravens scored after his first interception,the safety and his interception return fora touchdown).
"I don't know if a guy could play a better footballgame," Harbaugh said.
Reed's performance is underscored by the factthat he could have decided not to play this season. Hehas been limited since training camp with a nerveimpingement in his neck and left shoulder.
"My doctor told me an average guy wouldn't beplaying right now," Reed said.
Reed, though, isn't focused on his injury. He hashis sights set on returning to the playoffs and winninghis first postseason game.
The Ravens' final five regular-season games areagainst the Cincinnati Bengals (1-9-1), WashingtonRedskins (7-4), Steelers, Dallas Cowboys (7-4) and Jacksonville Jaguars (4-7).
"It's going to be a tough road ahead," Reed said."We've got an uphill battle."
Big play Ed Some of Ed Reed's biggest plays as a Raven:
Yesterday: Returned interception 108 yards against the Eagles to break his NFL record and seal the victory.
Nov. 5, 2007: Took handoff from cornerback Samari Rolle after an interception to race 25 yards for the score.
Nov. 7, 2004: Returned interception 106 yards against the Cleveland Browns to set an NFL record for longest interception return.
Oct. 10, 2004: Had a sack, forced fumble and fumble return for a touchdown on same play against the Washington Redskins.
Sept. 14, 2003: Intercepted two passes against Browns, returned one 53 yards for a TD.
AFC playoff picture
Division leaders East: Jets, 8-3
South: Titans, 10-1
North: Steelers, 8-3
West: Broncos, 6-5
Wild-card contenders Ravens, 7-4
Dolphins, 6-5Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun