Ravens cornerback Rashaan Melvin shadowed Cecil Shorts along the sideline, running step for step with the Jacksonville Jaguars' speedy wide receiver as a pass from rookie quarterback Blake Bortles floated out of bounds.
It was a pivotal 4th-and-9 at the Baltimore 37-yard line during the fourth quarter of the Ravens' 20-12 win Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium. The turnover on downs led to the Ravens' game-clinching field goal on the ensuing possession.
The Ravens' injury-riddled secondary needed every play it could get as Melvin held up solidly during his first NFL regular-season game with five tackles, a deflected pass he nearly intercepted and a tackle for a loss. The Ravens limited Bortles to 210 passing yards and no touchdowns with safety Jeromy Miles intercepting him at the end of the game to close out the Jaguars.
"Our job is to cover no matter what down it is, or what the call or situation is in the game," Melvin said. "We were able to get the job done. I'm pleased, but I've still got a lot of stuff to learn. I want to be great. I've got a long way to go."
How the former Miami Dolphins practice squad player came to play followed a painfully familiar story line for the Ravens' secondary.
Melvin joined the first-team defense in the third quarter when starting cornerback Asa Jackson damaged the posterior cruciate ligament in his right knee. If Jackson is out for the year, he'll become the fifth cornerback to be placed on injured reserve, joining Jimmy Smith, Danny Gorrer, Tramain Jacobs and Aaron Ross. The Ravens also lost rookie safety Terrence Brooks for the season with posterior cruciate and medial collateral ligament damage that will force him to be placed on injured reserve.
"I don't have a final word on Asa," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "Terrence Brooks does not look good. So, he'll be out for the year. Melvin came in there and did a great job and played really well and was excited to get out and get a chance. The next guy has to step up, and they will."
The Ravens' hard luck in the secondary, particularly at cornerback, hasn't ceased since the preseason, when veteran starter Lardarius Webb first hurt his lower back, an injury that has affected him throughout the season.
"It's rough," Webb said. "Everything happens for a reason. It's next man up. We'll probably bring in some more good guys like Melvin and we'll keep going. We've got some important games coming up, and it's going to be on the defensive backs, it's going to be on us."
Despite the latest batch of injuries, the Ravens were able to stop Bortles, a strong-armed first-round draft pick who completed just 21 of 37 passes. The defensive backs were bolstered by a relentless pass rush that generated a season-high eight sacks. The coverage improved later in the game after getting off to a slow start in the first half.
That included Melvin breaking up a long pass intended for Shorts in the third quarter that he nearly intercepted. Officials upheld the incomplete pass ruling following the Ravens' unsuccessful challenge.
"I wanted the interception," Melvin said. "I thought that I had the ball in my hands, but obviously the referees decided to go a different route. It was a good play. It was a third-down stop and we got off the field."
Melvin was signed off of the Dolphins' practice squad earlier this season by the Ravens. In his second year in the NFL, the 6-foot-2, 193-pounder went undrafted out of Northern Illinois after walking on there and eventually earning a scholarship
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"I've been sitting there for a while watching," Melvin said. "I believe in myself. I was happy that the coaches allowed me to have an opportunity to go out there and show what I could do and contribute to the team. I just took it in stride. I'm blessed and I'm a confident guy. There was no pressure."
Webb said he wasn't surprised to see Melvin rise to the occasion and not be overwhelmed in his first meaningful NFL action.
"That's how he practices, you watch him in practice doing scout team and defensive reps and he goes against the best like Torrey [Smith] and Steve [Smith]," Webb said. "We know he can play. I didn't know his time would come this early, but it did and you can tell how much he paid attention even though he wasn't planning to play. He knew what was going on."
Although the Ravens had a solid performance overall, it did come against a rookie quarterback who's been intercepted 17 times and sacked 46 times this season. The Ravens entered Sunday ranked 31st in passing defense.
"The main thing is the win, but we're not happy," cornerback Anthony Levine said. "We've got areas to improve. We're not going to say, 'Now, our secondary is back.' We have to keep improving."