With the Ravens clinging to a precarious four-point lead and the Cincinnati Bengals crossing midfield midway through the fourth quarter, the team needed a big play from the defense.
It was no surprise to cornerback Cary Williams that outside linebacker Terrell Suggs provided.
Suggs stripped Jermaine Gresham of the football after the tight end had made a short reception, and strong safety Bernard Pollard recovered the fumble at the Ravens' 40-yard line. Three plays later, running back Ray Rice scampered 51 yards for a touchdown and a more comfortable 11-point advantage.
"We like to get turnovers as a defense," Suggs said. "The coaches are always forcing that issue, that we have to get turnovers. On the play before, the guy got outside, and it was my fault. [Inside linebacker] Ray [Lewis] said, 'You owe me one.' I said, 'All right,' and when he caught the ball, I knew he missed it and said, 'Just go for the strip." Went for it and got it."
The Ravens would go on to enjoy a 24-16 victory, but it appeared that the team was in for a white-knuckled ride until Suggs' heroics.
"For it to be him, that's just icing on the cake," Williams said of Suggs' play. "He's a great defensive player and one of the best players we have on this team, and he's one of the best players in the NFL. In my opinion, he should be the defensive player of the year."
That argument may be over, though, as Minnesota Vikings defensive end Jared Allen collected 3½ sacks Sunday and finished with 22 sacks, which is just a half-sack shy of Michael Strahan's NFL record.
Suggs set a career best with his 14th sack of the season of rookie quarterback Andy Dalton in the fourth quarter and established a new franchise record with his seventh forced fumble of the year.
Prior to his emergence in the fourth quarter, Suggs was having a tough time against Bengals left tackle Andrew Whitworth, who had contributed to Suggs collecting just 1½ sacks against Cincinnati since the club drafted Whitworth in 2006.
But Suggs said he didn't feel pressure to make a play.
"I thought I was going to pick a couple, actually," he said. "He threw three that were right over my head or outside of my hands. … That's what I was going for. But I'll take the forced fumble and the sack. It all goes into the stats. We all love stats on this defense, particularly me."
For coach John Harbaugh, it was just a matter of time before someone on the defensive side of the ball was going to do something to turn the tide.
"We needed a play," he said. "In games like this, you need your best guys to come up with a play in critical moments like that."
As a unit, the defense fared much better against Cincinnati in the rematch. In the Ravens' 31-24 win on Nov. 20, Dalton threw for a career-high 373 yards and one touchdown, running back Cedric Benson scored twice, and wide receiver Jerome Simpson caught six passes for 152 yards.
On Sunday, Dalton threw for 232 touchdowns but no touchdowns, Benson was contained to 51 yards and no scores, and Simpson caught just five passes for 54 yards. Even A.J. Green, who entered the game leading the league's rookies in catches and yards, was limited to 26 yards on two receptions.
"I think we mixed the looks up," said Williams, who led the team with three pass breakups despite being questionable due to post-concussion symptoms. "We played off, we played up, we got our hands on them, we were physical, and I think that just really disrupted the timing between him and the quarterback. We were mentally prepared, and we went out there and did everything we were supposed to do."
While a good portion of the credit for Sunday's win will go to Rice and the rest of the offense, quarterback Joe Flacco recognized the importance of Suggs' play.
"That turnover was a big part of the game," Flacco said. "For us to score that touchdown was huge."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun