It was understandable the past few weeks that defensive end Michael McCrary played through the pain in his knees that has plagued him all season: The Ravens still had playoff hopes, slim as they were.
Yet, he is still going to suit up tomorrow with nothing other than pride on the line when the Ravens play the New England Patriots at Foxboro Stadium at 1 p.m., despite admitting that he can't wait for the off-season.
So why not start his off-season a week early, thereby forgoing the chance of further damaging his knees?
Devotion to family is part of it.
"You have to finish what you start," McCrary said. "This game right here is really for my grandmother. Things aren't looking too hot. Nothing can keep me out of this game. I'd have to be in a wheelchair not to play in this game."
He was in a wheelchair for two months during the summer -- recovering from arthroscopic surgery in March that repaired a knee injury he suffered during last year's Pro Bowl.
McCrary will have a magnetic resonance imaging sometime early next week on both knees to see if more surgery is needed, according to Ravens trainer Bill Tessendorf.
For now, McCrary, as he has done in 15 starts this season, is dealing with a season that has been the toughest physically and mentally for him since getting drafted by Seattle in the seventh round out of Wake Forest in 1993.
The physical part is directly because of the knees. They forced McCrary to miss most of training camp and really could have kept him out longer than that. He chose to keep playing despite obviously being slowed by the injury.
The injury slowed his ability, but it did not slow the effort. McCrary showed the same passion this year that he has been known for throughout his career. Wanting to keep a player who goes hard every down, the Ravens extended McCrary's contract after he left the team briefly during the preseason.
"Anytime he is out there, he is giving 120 percent," said Ozzie Newsome, Ravens vice president of player personnel. "That was our attraction to him. That was the reason why we extended his contract.
"Mike only has one speed, and that is all-out. Him going out there playing all-out hurts him in his ability to completely get healthy until the season is over. Therefore, him playing through those injuries shows us what type of competitor he is because he could have shut it down, but he didn't."
It has paid off for McCrary, who earned his second straight berth in the Pro Bowl. McCrary leads the team with 11.5 sacks this season, including three in last week's 22-0 win over Cincinnati.
"As the year has gone on -- I think he has nine sacks in the last five games -- that is the kind of player he is, an impact guy," said defensive line coach Rex Ryan. "Even when he was struggling with the injury, he was still a hell of a lot better than most ends in the league."
To hear McCrary speak of how this has been the most frustrating year of his career almost seems laughable considering the success he has had on the field.
But the frustration stems from a mental aspect -- the one-on-one battle with the offensive tackle he endures every week, and not being able to show the best he has.
"I'm not able to utilize all of my athletic ability and aggressiveness," McCrary said. "Knowing that I'm going into a game and a guy has an advantage in the offensive tackle. I'll come off the field frustrated because I'll feel that the tackle felt that he blocked me. I feel I can't be blocked by one man.
"Really it wasn't the lineman blocking me. It was my knees prohibiting me from taking it to this guy, and that was the hardest thing for me mentally."
No lineman will get such an advantage next season according to McCrary.
He said he plans to work himself harder in this off-season than he ever has, lifting weights and running to strengthen the knee.
"This off-season is like a Christmas gift," McCrary said. "It will allow me to build my legs up and come back and play the type of ball that I like to play."
NOTE: Cornerback Clarence Love, safety Anthony Mitchell, receiver Marcus Nash and offensive lineman Sammy Williams are the inactives for tomorrow's game.
Next for Ravens
Opponent: New England Patriots
Site: Foxboro (Mass.) Stadium
When: Tomorrow, 1 p.m.
TV/Radio: Ch. 13/WJFK (1300 AM), WLIF (101.9 FM)
Line: Ravens by 1 1/2