The final word belongs to Ravens rookie free safety Matt Elam.
Following a week where he created unwanted headlines when he called Detroit Lions star Calvin Johnson "pretty old," Elam intercepted a Matthew Stafford pass in the final minute to preserve the Ravens' 18-16 victory Monday night at Ford Field.
The first-round draft pick recorded a game-high 10 tackles and capped the game with the first interception of his career.
Afterward in the Ravens' locker room, Elam was emotional after contributing the biggest play of his NFL career.
"No disrespect to Megatron, I didn't mean it that way," Elam said. "I just feel like it's Monday night, everybody is watching. You're going to give your best game anyway. It shouldn't be somebody calling somebody out to play a good game. You're going to play a good game anyway because it's Monday night and everybody's watching and you want to win.
"He's one of the greatest receivers in the game. I have no disrespect for him. It was just my competitive spirit. I just want to win."
Elam's night didn’t begin well, and it had nothing do with the presence of Johnson.
Elam committed two mistakes unrelated to the standout wide receiver during a Lions scoring drive in the first quarter.
First, Elam was penalized for unnecessary roughness when he hit Stafford as he was sliding on third down. On the ensuing play, Elam missed a tackle in the open field on a short pass to wide receiver Nate Burleson that gained 17 yards.
The consecutive mistakes by Elam ultimately cost the Ravens as running back Reggie Bush darted14 yards around the left side into the end zone on the next play to stake the Lions to a 7-0 lead.
Elam ended the game by picking off Stafford, though, and he rebounded in the second half with some solid work in run support against Bush as well as getting the key turnover.
"It just feels great to get a team win and get that pick and win for my team," Elam said. "I just feel like we're destined for greatness. I'm so excited. I just went out there and played my game."
This marked an important night for Elam, who entered the game with two fumble recoveries.
"I'm very proud of Matt," cornerback Lardarius Webb said. "After he made those comments, the guys were messing with him, teasing him a little bit. You could tell by how he was focused this week, he was into it, so I knew he was going to have a big game.
"He was just trying to back up his words. I'm just so proud of him that the pick landed in his hands to end that game, to let him know that he's here, that he's a part of it. He needs to be known."
Sack drought ends
Middle linebacker Daryl Smith perfectly timed a blitz through the center-guard gap in the first half to sack Stafford.
It ended a streak of two games without a sack for the Ravens, who had just five quarterback hits during that span.
Smith has a career-high 4.5 sacks this season as he’s been utilized frequently as an inside pass rusher since signing a one-year, $2.125 million contract in June. He also intercepted a pass in the second half.
Smith also intercepted a pass in the second half.
"We always believe in ourselves," Smith said. "We never think we're out of it."
The Ravens’ last sack prior to Smith was recorded by strong-side outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil when he sacked New York Jets rookie quarterback Geno Smith during a 19-3 victory on Nov. 24.
Outside linebacker Terrell Suggs’ last sack was six games ago on Nov. 3 when he brought down Cleveland Browns quarterback Jason Campbell.
Milestones for T. Smith
Wide receiver Torrey Smith eclipsed the 1,000-yard receiving mark for the first time in his career.
The former Maryland standout caught four passes for 69 yards and now has 59 receptions for a career-high 1,032 receiving yards this season.
In the first half, Smith broke a Ravens franchise record with his 36th reception of 25 yards or more to pass Derrick Mason.
"The victory is the most important thing," Smith said. "The other stuff just comes with the territory."
The Ravens got their leading pass rusher back Monday night when Dumervil returned from a bruised, sprained ankle that sidelined him for one game.
Dumervil hadn't missed a game this season until the Ravens' 29-26 win over the Minnesota Vikings last week ending his streak of 144 consecutive games.
Dumervil appeared to have his usual mobility with one solo tackle, two quarterback hits and a pass deflection during the first half.
"I felt pretty good, considering the circumstances," Dumervil said. "It was cool, the rest helped. I did the best I could."
With Dumervil active, the Ravens scratched rookie outside linebacker John Simon, who was active against Minnesota.
The Ravens also deactivated wide receiver Deonte Thompson, center Ryan Jensen, running back Bernard Scott, safeties Brynden Trawick and Omar Brown and defensive tackle Brandon Williams.
The Ravens had just four wide receivers active: Smith, Jacoby Jones, Marlon Brown and Tandon Doss.
Ravens tight end Dallas Clark was active, one week after being a healthy scratch.
The NFL salary cap is projected to rise to $126.3 million in 2014, an increase of 2.6 percent.
The Ravens are currently $1.512 million under this year’s salary-cap limit of $123 million and can carry over that excess space into next year.
They’ll need that breathing room with $111.872 million in salary-cap commitments already accounted for in the next NFL fiscal year, including high salary-cap figures for nose tackle Haloti Ngata ($16 million), quarterback Joe Flacco ($14.8 million), Suggs ($12.4 million), cornerback Webb ($10.5 million), running back Ray Rice ($8.75 million), offensive guard Marshal Yanda ($8.45 million) and weak-side linebacker Jameel McClain ($4.4 million).
Waiting in reserve
When the Ravens signed Scott in October, it was intended to provide an emergency option if anything happened to Rice and backup Bernard Pierce.
The Ravens haven’t needed to use Scott with Rice and Pierce relatively healthy. Scott has been inactive every game rather than have three running backs and two fullbacks active.
Scott was re-signed last Tuesday after being cut when tight end Dennis Pitta was activated. Scott was told he’d likely be back when he was released.
Retired Ravens middle linebacker Ray Lewis and former quarterback Trent Dilfer were at the game working for ESPN’s Monday Night Football broadcasting crew. Lewis predicted a Ravens victory. .. The Ravens’ game captains were offensive tackle Eugene Monroe, Pitta, McClain and Dumervil.
Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun