This is the mind and the mayhem that Ravens safety Ed Reed brings to the field: On his fifth play of the game Sunday, with Buffalo's Roscoe Parrish encircled by Ravens along the sideline, Reed sees an opening to attack the ball. His shoulder pad connects, the ball comes out, but the Bills recover.
"It was bad tackle technique," Reed said later. "I knew we had Roscoe basically surrounded and somebody had to just go and take a shot. And that's what I did. I took a shot and happened to be in the right place at the right time."
It was almost the elusive turnover the Ravens have missed. The Bills felt the sting at least twice more of Reed's mayhem, though. Twice he intercepted Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, including on the first play of the second half. That became a Ravens touchdown seven seconds later — on a flea flicker, no less, to Anquan Boldin — and Baltimore's comeback was officially on.
Reed was back, in full throttle, even if the Ravens' secondary was in deep retreat. Thanks to his timely plays, the Ravens were able to offset Fitzpatrick's four touchdown throws and outlast the Bills in overtime, 37-34. It was the ninth time in his illustrious Pro Bowl career that Reed had a multi-interception game.
It was a ghoulish, Halloween-ish game, though, for the Ravens secondary. Cornerback Fabian Washington was beaten twice by Lee Evans on touchdown throws over his head and was pulled in the fourth quarter. Lardarius Webb was beaten by Steve Johnson on another.
"Once they start going after somebody, you've got to get them off you then," Washington, a six-year veteran said. "Today was 'check, check, 31' [Washington's number]. That was what it was today. This week they got me. But please believe I will be back."
It wasn't so much that Reed stopped the Bills after spending the first six weeks on the physically-unable-to-perform list after hip surgery, but his presence in the secondary bore immediate results. Communication may have suffered a slight drop with injured Tom Zbikowski going to the sideline, but it was hard to ignore Reed's contributions.
Of the 374 passing yards Fitzpatrick accrued, Ravens linebacker Johnson said: "Pass defense is like run defense — it's a team stat. Having Ed back there does help, especially with big plays. But it doesn't exactly mean that we're going to be perfect with Ed back there. Obviously, we gave up a lot of yards."
Buffalo had 506 total yards, converted 11 of 17 first downs, and drove 59 yards for the tying field goal with eight seconds left in regulation. On the day the Ravens' Super Bowl team came back — with what may have been the best defense ever — this year's defense didn't compare.
"We want to be dominant," Johnson said. "We weren't even close to being dominant. I don't even know if we slowed them down. We have a lot of work to get done."
Despite his reluctance last week to say Reed would play, coach John Harbaugh anointed him a team captain on Wednesday, an emotional day when Reed returned to the practice field for the first time since last January.
"It changes the whole complexion," Harbaugh said about Reed's return. "He made his presence felt."
Reed was hardly satisfied with a game that would be highlight tape for any other safety.
"We've been working at [communication on the field] all week, and I knew it was going to be different with Zibby out and me coming back," Reed said. "I told the guys, 'Just bear with me for these couple weeks,' because I knew it was going to be tough communicating. There's a lot of calls that I didn't make, and those guys just played around me. I knew that was going to happen, and they knew that was going to happen. They fought through."
Washington was beaten deep twice by Evans when the Ravens blitzed strong safety Dawan Landry and was replaced by Josh Wilson in the fourth quarter. Webb got beat when he couldn't run with Johnson on a go-route. As a precautionary measure, Webb had a wrap on his groin, but after the touchdown, took it often.
"That's not an excuse," Webb said. "I'm still supposed to make that play. I took it [the wrap] off then and didn't have any problems. I'm thinking I never should have put it on in the first place."
In the last three games, the Ravens have surrendered 314, 292 and now 374 total passing yards. This was the worst not just in number, but for getting burned on the deep ball.
"It was just guys getting beat," cornerback Chris Carr said. "That's unfortunate because that hasn't been happening. But it seemed like today it happened way too often."
Reed, a celebrated student of film, sounded like a coach going back to the film room afterward.
"I've got to go back and watch the film and see if it was some technique stuff that guys just didn't play," Reed said.
And just in case anyone forgot who the new guy was in the secondary, Reed made that point with his last answer at news conference. How did he feel after two interceptions and a forced fumble?
"Keep talking about who the best safety [in the NFL] is," he said. "Let me know."
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