At this point in his Hall of Fame-bound career, Ed Reed doesn't need to remind voters of his prowess as a playmaker. But just in case there were a few non-believers, the Ravens free safety offered a firm rebuttal.

Reed intercepted an errant pass from Andy Dalton and returned it 34 yards for a touchdown with 13 seconds left in the third quarter of the team's 44-13 dismantling of the Cincinnati Bengals at M&T Bank Stadium on Monday night.

Already the franchise leader with 58 career interceptions, Reed pushed his total interception return yardage to 1,497, vaulting past former Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers defensive back Rod Woodson as the NFL's all-time leader in that category.

"It feels good," said Reed, who celebrates his 34th birthday today. "But that's really hands down to the D-linemen. They got some pressure on Dalton, who's a very good quarterback. He's going to be good in this league. But when pressure's in your face and I kind of know the call and know how aggressive we are, it gives you a chance to make plays. I got my hands on one before that, actually two, and you're talking to yourself. 'It's coming, it's coming, it's coming. Just be patient.' That's what we kept telling each other as a secondary. So it feels good."

After snatching the ball that Dalton had tossed over wide receiver Brandon Tate, Reed raced down the left sideline with only Bengals right tackle Andre Smith to beat. Reed reached the ball across the goal line and inside the pylon to record the 14th return touchdown of his career.

Reed strained his right hamstring on the play and did not return, but making sure that he beat Smith to the pylon was worth the exertion.

"Yeah, I wasn't going to let the O-lineman catch me like that," he said. "So I just dove. I strained my hamstring trying to dive. I'll be 34 in two hours. Father Time sometimes catches up with you."

After the touchdown, Reed was mobbed by seemingly every defensive player in a corner of the stadium. Cornerback Lardarius Webb said it's hard not to get excited when Reed does that.

"Whenever he makes plays, it's like, 'Man, how does he do that?'" Webb said. "He makes plays — play after play after play. And when I see him, I just see legendary, I see greatness. I want to be like that one day. It just makes me so proud and so happy that I can play with a guy like that."

The 11-year veteran who has earned eight Pro Bowl invitations marked a triumphant return after an offseason of tumult.

Reed, who would not entertain any questions about his future after the Ravens' 23-20 loss to the New England Patriots in January's AFC championship game, went back and forth over whether he would play this season.

He dealt with a nerve impingement injury in his shoulder and neck and hip surgery last season and alternated between grumbling about his contract and declaring himself ready to play during the offseason. Skipping a mandatory minicamp further fanned the flames about his lack of commitment.

But Reed reported to training camp on time and did not miss a practice or game in the preseason due to injury. His teammates have maintained all along that they never doubted that Reed wouldn't return and be his familiar self.

"Football is football. Ed's going to do what he's got to do," strong safety Bernard Pollard said. "We can't sit here and try to speak for him. Everybody has their own opinion, and everybody's entitled to their own opinion. But when it's all said and done, you see him. He's here. He's playing football. He's a true professional. The guy's showing up, and he's playing football. That's all we can ask for."

Reed — who finished 2011 with just three interceptions, the fewest for a season in which he played all 16 games in his 11-year career — leads the defense in that department thus far. Monday night's interception and touchdown might remind opposing quarterbacks to avoid Reed, but he's not too worried.

"I felt like I could make those plays within the team's schemes and systems because we have a bunch of great players around us," Reed said. "If you get a chance when those opportunities come your way, like [inside linebacker] Ray [Lewis] says before we started this game — last night, actually — take advantage of your opportunities. Like I said, there were two that came to me before that. You're talking to yourself, man. But it's about making those plays. Like you said, I've been doing this pretty much my whole career, and it's just a blessing."


Recommended on Baltimore Sun