The last time Derrick Mason stood at his dressing stall inside M&T; Bank Stadium after a game that counted, the Ravens receiver was talking about feeling like a forgotten man in his team's forgettable offense.
That was in last season's playoff defeat to the Indianapolis Colts and Mason, used to being a go-to guy in Baltimore and before that in Tennessee, had caught just two passes for 16 yards to finish off his least productive year since 2000.
Mason felt, and acted, a lot differently last night.
In a 20-13 win yesterday over the New York Jets, Mason caught eight passes for 54 yards, all but one in the first half when the Ravens built a 17-3 lead. Mason leads the Ravens this season with 15 catches for 130 yards.
"I think it was a combination of both, the play calling, the defense, Kyle [Boller] just getting comfortable with dropping back and throwing the ball, and me doing what I need to do to get open," Mason said of his first-half performance against the Jets. "That's what we've been stressing. Get open, and the quarterback will get you the ball. As a receiver, that's all we've been doing."
Asked about the difference between how he feels now and how he felt after the 15-6 season-ending loss to the Colts, Mason smiled.
"We won, whether I caught two balls or whatever, we won," Mason said. "You really can't complain at the end. Did we get a win, or did we lose? We won, and that's basically all you want to see. You did whatever you could to help the team win. That's the way everybody is feeling in this locker room."
After ending a stretch of six straight years of leading either the Ravens or Titans in receptions, Mason finished with 68 catches last year for 750 yards and two touchdowns. He finished second to tight end Todd Heap in receptions, but felt left out by the end of the season.
Moved to the inside this year, Mason has become more productive in the team's ball-control offense. Mason has also become more of a key part of the offense because fellow wideout Mark Clayton (one catch for minus-1 yard yesterday) has been slowed by an ankle injury suffered during the preseason. As a result, Mason has been getting his number called more often, and has taken advantage of the opportunity.
"It's all coming together, whether it's on the inside or the outside," Mason said. "I think what I do is that I'm a guy that's versatile."
Mason's presence, especially in the first half, helped open things up for Heap, who caught seven passes for 76 yards.
"Derrick's come up huge for us the last two games. He's forcing teams to cover him, showing them he can make plays," Heap said. "That's just going to help. He's proven over his career that he can make plays, and we need to keep going to him. That opens things up for Demetrius [Williams], Mark and I, and opens up our running game, too."
Mason even had an interesting perspective as a spectator toward the end of the game, watching former Titans teammate Justin McCareins drop two potential touchdown passes in the frantic final minute, the second of which went through McCareins' hands and was intercepted by Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis.
"In a sense, you feel for him," Mason said of McCareins. "It's a league that if they don't make the touchdown, good. You feel bad for him. I played with Justin for four or five years. You hate to see that, but on the flip side, you love it. I'm glad he did drop it. It was probably a lack of concentration. But I'm glad he had a lack of concentration."