Pernell McPhee delivers when Ravens need it in win over Browns

Ravens linebacker Pernell McPhee, left, sacks Cleveland Browns quarterback Connor Shaw in the third quarter.
Ravens linebacker Pernell McPhee, left, sacks Cleveland Browns quarterback Connor Shaw in the third quarter. (Kenneth K. Lam, Baltimore Sun)

Ravens backup outside linebacker Pernell McPhee kept chasing down Cleveland Browns undrafted rookie quarterback Connor Shaw, using every trick in his pass-rushing repertoire to penetrate the backfield.

The Ravens needed every sack and quarterback hit they could get from McPhee and the rest of the defense, eventually figuring out a way to contain the unheralded former South Carolina standout during a 20-10 victory at M&T Bank Stadium that propelled them into the playoffs.


With Shaw operating in a free-wheeling, scrambling style, the Ravens got one of the top performances of McPhee's career. McPhee sacked Shaw twice, hit him three times and had five tackles, three for losses, and also batted away a pass at the line of scrimmage.

"It's a blessing," said McPhee, who finished the season with a career-high 7.5 sacks in relief of starter Terrell Suggs. "I'm not going to lie, but I'm focused on the playoffs. I'm not focused on my individual performance. It wasn't easy out there.


"Connor Shaw reminds of [Ravens backup quarterback] Tyrod Taylor. He's not as good as Tyrod, but he's got the speed and explosiveness of Tyrod. It was kind of backyard football out there. We had to man up."

McPhee's timing was superb, given how it impacted the Ravens' playoff outlook and the fact that he's in the final year of his rookie contract. He's expected to cash in as a free agent either with the Ravens or with another NFL team.

"With McPhee, the first thing is he wants to win and he understands that now is his moment to put on film and show the Ravens and the other 31 teams that he's a ballplayer," outside linebacker Courtney Upshaw said. "A lot of guys respect McPhee for how he does his thing.

"He's been a great player for us all year. There are people who don't really understand football, but, in this organization, we understand what he brings to the table. He's an unsung hero for us."

Although McPhee has a history of knee problems, the versatile 6-foot-3, 280-pound Florida native and former Mississippi State defensive lineman has remained healthy this season. He has excelled while rushing the passer from over the center or as a traditional defensive end and in a two-point stance off the edge as an outside linebacker.

"He's a beast," nose tackle Brandon Williams said of McPhee. "Anytime you need that play, he's there."

There wasn't an extensive scouting report on Shaw because he hadn't played in a regular-season game in the NFL. So, the Ravens had to rely on watching preseason games from August and how Shaw performed for the Gamecocks program where he went 27-5 as a starter. Shaw got the Browns off to a solid start to build a 10-3 lead heading into the fourth quarter.

"We kind of knew what kind of player he was," Upshaw said. "Connor Shaw is going to be good once he gets more starts under his belt."

However, the Ravens eventually solved Shaw by repeatedly pounding him. Shaw finished with just 177 yards on 14 of 28 passing for no touchdowns, one interception and a 55.2 quarterback rating.

"I knew they would be bringing some heat, especially in long-yardage situations," Shaw said. "I thought I battled pretty well. I felt comfortable out there. I'm disappointed we couldn't get it done."

The Ravens beat Shaw one week after losing to the Houston Texans' Case Keenum, another relatively untested quarterback. This time, the defense was able to avoid losing to an unproven passer as Shaw was sacked four times and hit seven times overall.

"That's the thing with playing a player like that, he was out there playing streetball," said Suggs, who sacked Shaw once. "If there was something he didn't like in there, he was just taking off and running.


"We knew he was going to do that. That just shows how dangerous a guy can be when he's playing with his back to the wall, playing with nothing to lose."

The Ravens sensed they were in trouble and needed to tighten up defensively after former Towson and Northwestern running back Terrance West scored on a 2-yard touchdown run to give the Browns the 10-3 lead. That touchdown was set up by Shaw rolling out to his right and eluding defenders to connect with wide receiver Taylor Gabriel for a 49-yard completion.

"It was like you know too many things can go wrong after they scored," Suggs said. "We just banded together as a team and we didn't give up any more big plays."

And McPhee was at the center of that effort, routinely shedding blocks and running free to crash into Shaw.

"I think [defensive coordinator] Dean Pees did a good job of play-calling and the secondary covering to allow us to rush the passer," McPhee said. "I just wanted to do everything I could to get us back into the playoffs."


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