OWINGS MILLS - Tom Brady launched a bomb intended for Matthew Slater, a high arcing pass into the Baltimore Ravens' end zone during last season's AFC championship game.
The New England Patriots' star quarterback didn't put enough air under the throw to escape the hand of Ravens veteran strong safety Bernard Pollard.
Pollard leapt into the air to deflect the football into the hands of cornerback Jimmy Smith for an interception.
Although the Ravens suffered a 23-20 defeat at Gillette Stadium, the team's third-ranked defense limited Brady to 239 passing yards and no touchdown passes with two interceptions.
The defending AFC North champions will need a string of similar defensive performances against elite quarterbacks this fall when they square off with 11 passers who've been named to at least one Pro Bowl.
"The football season is going to be exciting," Pollard said. "You've got so many people saying what we can't do, who we're facing, how many quarterbacks can do this, what offenses do that.
"It does not matter, because when the whistle blows and you're between those white lines, you can't stop us. And we're excited with what we have."
Pollard emerged as a key contributor after joining the Ravens last season, recording 75 tackles, two sacks, three forced fumbles and one interception.
The Ravens rewarded him with a three-year, $12.3 million contract extension last month that includes a $3 million signing bonus.
And Pollard has every intention of proving worthy of the Ravens' investment.
"Well, this is a blessing for me," Pollard said. "You hear so many times when guys get extensions and they don't play the same, they don't do the same thing, they don't have the same hunger. I stay hungry.
"I play with chips on my shoulders. Playing with these guys is truly an honor, a privilege. You hear about guys trying to get contracts all the time. Our biggest thing is to go out there and play football. Whatever happened last year was last year. We're moving on to this year."
The Ravens, who continue their organized team activity schedule with a practice open to reporters today, have been working to bolster the secondary this offseason.
They signed starting cornerback Lardarius Webb to a $50 million contract extension and added former Chicago Bears cornerback Corey Graham to the roster.
Plus, they drafted rookie cornerback Asa Jackson in the fifth round out of Cal Poly.
And Smith returns after a solid rookie year as well as starting cornerback Cary Williams, who's expected to battle with Smith for the starting job after undergoing offseason hip surgery.
"With this team, we're excited with what we have," Pollard said. "This front office has done a great job as far as getting players in here to help this team win, and obviously, that's what we're about.
"It was a tough loss. We were a catch, a field goal, whatever, we were that away from the Super Bowl. Now, we've got to go prove to a lot of people and to ourselves that we can do the same thing again, but end up in the Super Bowl."
In order to do that, the Ravens will have to overcome NFL Defensive Player of the Year outside linebacker Terrell Suggs' torn Achilles tendon that could sideline him for a significant portion of, if not the entire season.
The Ravens' defensive mettle will also be tested by games against the following quarterbacks: Andy Dalton (Cincinnati Bengals), Michael Vick (Philadelphia Eagles), Brady, Matt Cassel (Kansas City Chiefs), Tony Romo (Dallas Cowboys), Matt Schaub (Houston Texans), Carson Palmer (Oakland Raiders), Ben Roethlisberger (Pittsburgh Steelers), Philip Rivers (San Diego Chargers), Peyton Manning (Denver Broncos) and Eli Manning (New York Giants).
Plus, the Ravens are getting acclimated to new defensive coordinator Dean Pees.
"Dean wants us to play hard and fast, and I think he doesn't want to change the 'Raven way,'" Pollard said. "He's letting us know what to do. As long as we're playing hard and fast, as long as we're playing Raven football, we can't be beat.
"I think whenever we start to get tired, whenever we start to think, 'We can't be beat,' or just get lackadaisical, that's not Raven football, and we've gotten those losses. And I think you guys have seen that all of last year, when we stepped away from it, we lost. But I think we're untouchable when we play Raven football."
Always talkative on the field and carrying a reputation as an intimidating hitter, the 6-foot-1, 228-pound Pollard has filled a void as far as leadership during offseason practices while Reed is absent from the voluntary sessions.
Being outspoken isn't a change for Pollard, who won the Ravens' annual Media Good Guy award last season voted on by reporters who regularly cover the team."I'm not changing what I do or what I've done," Pollard said. "I can't change that about myself. I couldn't care less what I've just got. I've got to be me. And I'm the type of player where I come up, I play.
"Obviously, this is a point where we're all kind of learning this defense, coming back in, kind of putting things together," Pollard said. "When it counts is when we start training camp, when we start getting ready for preseason. And then when those bullets are live, when those things hurt, when you get wins and losses in those columns."