There was a point during his 57-yard fumble return for a touchdown in the third quarter that Ravens linebacker Adalius Thomas began to wonder whether he would make it to the end zone.
Thomas, who had aggravated a sprained right ankle in the first quarter, said he wasn't sure the ankle was feeling up to a long gallop down the left sideline.
But once Thomas saw the open parcel of real estate between him and the end zone, the seven-year veteran said his outlook changed.
"When you see the end zone, it gets the adrenaline rolling, and the stadium got quiet for a couple seconds," Thomas said.
Thomas' score put the finishing touch on the Ravens' 27-0 victory over the AFC North rival Pittsburgh Steelers. The touchdown was just one part of an all-around performance that Thomas seems to deliver on a weekly basis.
Thomas registered four tackles, one sack and two quarterback hits. He leads the defense in sacks with nine, ranks third in tackles with 76 and has an interception and fumble recovery.
Thomas, who is in the final year of a three-year deal, has cemented his value to defensive coordinator Rex Ryan.
"He does so much for us," Ryan said. "He's probably one of the most underrated guys in the league. Everybody knows he's tremendous, but I think he's better than that."
The 6-foot-2, 270-pound Thomas, who was invited to the Pro Bowl in 2003 as a special teamer, is versatile enough to play eight different positions on defense. He has covered a receiver in the slot, stuffed a running back behind the line of scrimmage and hawked a tight end down the middle of the field.
This season, Thomas has made a living on the pass rush. Thomas, who extended his own franchise record with at least one sack in six consecutive games, is an integral member of Ryan's diverse blitz packages.
Against Pittsburgh yesterday, the Ravens sacked quarterback Ben Roethlisberger nine times, tying a team record set in 1997 against the Philadelphia Eagles.
"We knew that if we let him sit in there and pass the ball, he would pick you apart," Thomas said. "So we wanted to bring pressure."
Pressure played a role in Thomas' fumble return for a touchdown. With the Steelers making their first foray into Ravens territory in the third quarter, Roethlisberger stepped back from center on third-and-five from the 30-yard line.
Ravens cornerback Corey Ivy rushed in from the right side and stripped Roethlisberger of the football.
Thomas, who picked it up at the 43, said he wasn't content to just jump on the fumble. "We always say when we get a turnover, that's the beginning of the play," he said. "We don't just look to get a turnover, but a score."
Still, Thomas said the hits the Ravens' defense delivered against Pittsburgh foretold the kind of day the unit would have.
"[Linebacker] Bart [Scott] set the tone with the [second-quarter sack] on Roethlisberger, and me hitting [wide receiver] Hines Ward," Thomas said. "So we just try to be physical, and we say that the most physical team will win."