John Harbaugh does not generally go in for hyperbole or then-and-now comparisons, but in the aftermath of the Ravens’ 23-16 victory over the Houston Texans on Monday night he couldn’t help himself.
Terrell Suggs had just created a tremendous momentum shift with his second sack of the game late in the fourth quarter, stripping the ball away from Houston quarterback Tom Savage in the process and stopping a Texas foray into Ravens territory that could’ve led to a playoff-endangering home loss.
“He’s playing as well or better than I’ve seen him ever play since I’ve been there,’’ Harbaugh said.
And that’s saying quite a lot about a player who continues to carve out a place in Canton when many football players his age are several years into retirement.
Suggs is 35 years old. He is in his 15th season. He has come back from two Achilles tears and a torn biceps over the past 5½ seasons, and he keeps doing what he has done since coming out of Arizona State as a unanimous All-American in 2002.
His 9½ sacks this year lead the team, rank eighth in the league and put him just one sack out of the top five.
“He’s Ponce de León,” Harbaugh said. “You should put that on the back of his jersey. He has found the Fountain of Youth.”
Maybe not found it so much as wrestled it away from Father Time. His younger teammates look on in amazement at his work ethic and insist that while they marvel at what he can do at this point in his career, they are not surprised.
“It doesn’t [surprise us] because we see his work ethic throughout the week,” second-year defensive tackle Willie Henry said. “You guys see him play on Sunday, but we see the preparation it takes for him to get comfortable with the offense that he’s going against – getting their calls assessed and how they’re blocking him so he can play fast Sundays and Mondays and Thursdays, whatever day it might be.”
Even the Ravens who have been around for a while look at the level of play that Suggs has been able to maintain, and shake their heads.
“It’s hard to be a good player in this league,” 32-year-old All-Pro safety Eric Weddle said. “It’s hard to become a great player. It’s even harder to continue to be a great player. I appreciate that because I know how hard it is to get to the top and to try and stay there. He’s doing it, man.”
Suggs is the master of the strip sack, and Monday night’s was the 30th of his career. But he said after the game that it’s not so much a matter of technique as a commitment to take the ball away from the opposing offense whenever the opportunity arises.
That dates back to the glory days of the Ravens defense, when Suggs was just getting started and linebacker legend Ray Lewis was in his ear every time he slammed an opposing quarterback to the ground.
“He stays in my head and he’s not even playing no more,” Suggs said. “But Ray, my rookie year, I was getting some sacks, but I wasn’t stripping the ball, and every time I got a sack, he used to come and [say,] ‘Sizzle, get the ball. Sizzle, I want the ball.’ … Ray Lewis, he probably made a tackle tonight. He’s always gotten credit.”
It certainly isn’t easy to stay healthy when you’re in your 30s in the NFL – as Suggs has proven on a number of occasions – but he credits the coaching staff and director of performance Steve Saunders for putting him in position to be at his best.
“That’s huge,” Suggs said. “Yeah, [people] always bring up, ‘He’s in year 15, 35 years old.’ As long as I’m healthy, I can be Sizzle.”
Harbaugh wasn’t through praising Suggs’ big play Monday night or, for that matter, his general big-play ability.
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“You don’t see guys his age do that,” Harbaugh said, who was turning his postgame podium session into a stand-up routine. “He’s just a special guy, an amazing guy. He came over after [the strip sack] and he said, ‘Do you want to say thank you, Coach?’ And I said, ‘Yes, I do. Have I ever told you I love you?’ Beautiful.”