For the first half of this season, Ravens tight end Todd Heap was earning himself a new nickname -- "Waldo." Because you had to wonder where the heck he was in the Ravens' offense.
All sorts of theories and rationales have been floating around out there about Heap's sudden and steep decline in pass receptions, from the new coaching staff's insistence that Heap recast himself as a better blocking tight end to the nagging injuries that have characterized the last season-plus of the former Pro Bowler's career.
No game better summed up the downward turn in Heap's role as one of the NFL's premiere catching tight ends than the zero-catches, zero-balls thrown his way in an otherwise overall sterling team performance in the Ravens' win over the Browns two Sundays ago. No matter how many outstanding blocks Heap threw on behalf of running back Ray Rice that day, folks still fretted over his lack of catches.
The numbers were stark. In the first eight games of the season, Heap had just 13 receptions for 137 yards and zero touchdowns.
The reversal of Heap's role yesterday when he went on to lead Ravens' receivers with five catches for 58 yards and two touchdowns started on Baltimore's very first play from scrimmage. It was just a little 3-yard Joe Flacco toss on the left side but it was an important signal in the 41-13 rout of Houston. Whether it was offensive coordinator Cam Cameron pointedly trying to get Heap into the flow immediately or simply a read by Flacco to the open man, it seemed to flip the switch.
Perhaps, opposing teams have stopped game-planning for Heap and the Ravens thought it was time to take advantage of their forgotten tight end. Certainly there were times when it appeared as if the Texans had completely discounted Heap as a pass receiver as he faked blocking and then went out for a pass uncovered, such as the 1-yard TD he caught in the fourth quarter after a stumble coming off the left side. It was a key score that gave the Ravens breathing room at 27-13 (with a two-point conversion tacked on) after Houston had come to within a touchdown late in the third quarter. Before that, Heap had two 20-yard catches in the first half and later in the fourth quarter, he snared a 14-yard touchdown from Troy Smith.
Whether by design or circumstance, it was good for Ravens' fans to see Heap have a game more representative of his outstanding career here -- both for him and the team. As the 6-3 Ravens head into the toughest part of their schedule, they'll need as many weapons as they can muster.