An injury history that includes a nerve impingement in his neck and hip surgery and his back-and-forth commitment to playing for the Ravens this season have encouraged observers to question whether free safety Ed Reed is edging closer to retirement.

The eight-time Pro Bowler did little to silence the critics in the preseason when he made just one tackle. But Reed said his priority is preserving his health, not satisfying the doubters.

“When I make a tackle or make a play and I have a slight pain or something, you’re going to react the way you react,” he said Thursday. “I never came out of a game unless I was truly hurt. Me being on the ground, that’s on me and my mother. That’s not on anybody, no fans. My mom is at home watching that and she’s more worried than anybody – my biggest critics if you want to call them that. She doesn’t want me laying on the ground either. So I can care less what other people think about it. So long as I get up and I have my health and can finish the game and I still get the respect that I’ve earned throughout the league, that’s fine by me, and I’m sure it’s fine by my teammates. The injuries are what they are. When you’ve been playing the game for so long and sports for so long, it can take a toll on your body, and that’s what we’re putting on the line, and that’s what our argument is as players when we’re doing negotiations and stuff like that. This is not the time for that, but it is what it is.”

Reed finished 2011 with just three interceptions, the lowest total for a season in which he played all 16 games in his 11-year career. He did make an interception in an AFC divisional playoff win against the Houston Texans, but that snapped a stretch of six contests without an interception. Earlier, Reed had endured an eight-game drought.

Reed contended that opposing quarterbacks were avoiding him rather than risk potential turnovers. It will be interesting to see whether that pattern changes  this season if quarterbacks sense that they can go after Reed.