NEW ORLEANS - Bernard Pollard aggressively flew up from his safety position, barreling full speed into New England Patriots running back Stevan Ridley and delivering a crushing shoulder to Ridley's upper body that dislodged the ball from Ridley's possession.
Arthur Jones recovered the loose ball and, four plays later, Baltimore's offense scored a critical touchdown that extended their lead to 28-13 early in the fourth quarter of the Ravens' AFC championship victory over the Patriots.
Ravens coach John Harbaugh called Pollard's vicious hit "the turning point of the game."
"It was just a tremendous hit," Harbaugh said. "It was football at its finest. It was Bernard Pollard making a great physical tackle, just as good of a tackle as you're ever going to see in football right there."
It was signature Pollard - physical, tough and aggressive - but it was the type of play that had been less prevalent during the regular season as Pollard played through a rib injury that he suffered shortly into the second game of the season.
Pollard didn't miss any time, at least until aggravating the injury late in the year, but he was playing through pain and was limited from a physical standpoint. The tackles were still there - and his 98 stops ranked as a team-high during the regular season - but he just wasn't the same physical presence that he was prior to sustaining the injury.
It's been a different story in the playoffs.
Pollard missed the final three games of the regular season after aggravating the rib injury during a December loss to the Washington Redskins, but he returned for the postseason and has 15 tackles thus far in the playoffs.
"I still feel like crap," Pollard said with a smile. "Still feel like crap, but that's the game. ... The time off helped, but the injury's still there."
He's hidden it well.
Pollard had four tackles and two pass deflections during Baltimore's playoff win over the Indianapolis Colts. He had two tackles and a pass deflection amid the Ravens' divisional-round victory over the Denver Broncos. And during Baltimore's win over the Patriots, Pollard had nine tackles and the key forced fumble.
"It's been great for him to get back," cornerback Cary Williams said of Pollard. "That hit on Ridley changed the game. It changed the whole outlook of the game. It electrified our sideline, and it electrified our defense.
"He's a great leader. He leads by example. And it's great to have a guy like that back. It's great to have him back bringing that physicality to the position. ... He's back to being 'BP' and he's playing at a high level on Sundays."
And the Ravens will look for more of the same from Pollard in tonight's Super Bowl matchup with Colin Kaepernick and the San Francisco 49ers. Kaepernick's a multi-dimensional weapon at quarterback that's capable of hurting a defense with both his arm and his legs. Frank Gore's a Pro Bowl running back. Tight end Vernon Davis had 106 yards and a touchdown during the 49ers' win over the Atlanta Falcons in the NFC championship. And wide receiver Michael Crabtree's posted 93 yards or more in five of San Francisco's last seven games.
The 49ers have averaged 29 points per game in their nine games since Kaepernick took over as their starting quarterback in mid-November.
"It goes to our defense playing sound," Pollard said. "We have to, you know, approach this game, everybody has to play their area and their 'A' game, especially dealing with a quarterback like this who can kill you with his arm and with his legs. We have to be sound, we have to play great ball, and we cannot have mental mistakes. ... We just have to be sound. And if they run, we've got to tackle them."