Ravens rediscover Heap's hands

Ravens Gameday

Ravens 16, Browns 3

October 17, 2005|By MIKE PRESTON

There was 5:48 left in the Ravens' 16-3 win over the Cleveland Browns yesterday, and tight end Todd Heap was lying on the field with his eyes toward the sky and a lot of pain in his knee.

Only seconds earlier, Heap had collided with an official, who was also stretched out on the field on his back. Heap's mind shot back to last year when he injured his ankle against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 2, and he missed 10 of the next 14 games.

"He took me out," said Heap, smiling. "You know you're having bad luck when refs start taking you out. The injury caught me off guard, and it surprised me. But once I got up, and walked it off, it felt all right. I knew it wouldn't affect me the rest of the game, and I'll have no problem with it going into next week."

For the first time this season, the Pro Bowl tight end had a presence in a game. No, not just spot duty with one catch here, and another catch there about two quarters later.

Heap was a threat, a legitimate weapon all over the field. He worked the underneath stuff and the long routes. He had six catches for 79 yards and a touchdown.

He looked more like the player we saw during the first four years of his career, when he caught 168 passes for 2,038 yards. And he finally spent more time as a pass receiver than a pass blocker.

"Hey, I love pass blocking. I love that stuff," Heap said with a wink.

Heap needed a game like this. His recovery from the ankle injury has been slow, and it was clear during the first two games that he was still a step slower than usual. His ability as a pass catcher had been limited through the first quarter of the season.

What happened?

After years of being the Ravens' favorite target, Heap became an afterthought. Kyle Boller had his favorite target in Clarence Moore, and Anthony Wright favored Derrick Mason.

Plus, the Ravens were having major problems trying to protect the quarterback. So instead of sending Heap out on passing plays, the Ravens went to maximum protection. They kept Heap in to block or to help out tackles Jonathan Ogden and Orlando Brown against defensive ends.

"This time, the O-line held up well and allowed us to do what we wanted to do," Heap said. "It's a lot more fun being able to do what we did today."

The Ravens need to send thank-you cards to the Browns. Just about every team has been successful blitzing the Ravens this season and forcing them into turnovers, but Cleveland was about as soft as a Ravens training camp.

Often, the Browns rushed only three players, and they played a lot of zone coverage, which allowed Heap to find and then sit in dead areas for catches. With Mason working down the field and outside, Heap worked underneath on the slower linebackers who tried to cover him.

And then he popped a big one of 27 yards over the middle against Cleveland cornerback Gary Baxter down to the Browns' 17-yard line with 2:38 left in the game.

This is exactly what the Ravens envisioned when they signed Mason during the offseason. They wanted to be a run-oriented team, but on pass plays Mason would be Mr. Outside and Heap would be Mr. Inside.

It came together yesterday.

"They [Browns] weren't doing too many tricky things with dogs and blitzes," Heap said. "They have that bend-but-don't-break philosophy. Once we got the pass-protection down, we were even able to hit the running backs on check-downs. When we get a 10-point lead, it allows our defense to play the way they want to play.

"We were able to run our offense, and take some of the pressure off our defense. We were able to do a lot more of the things we've practiced since training camp."

Heap's role yesterday was more as a possession receiver, working the short passes to move the chains. But he did catch a 3-yard touchdown pass with 8:49 left in the first quarter to give the Ravens a 7-0 lead.

There's no definitive role for him yet, though, because there are still so many questions about this offense. The Ravens had 150 yards rushing on 33 carries, but 52 came on a long run by Chester Taylor.

On three of the team's four scoring drives, two were from turnovers forced by the defense, and another was set up by a 51-yard punt return from B.J. Sams. Of the Ravens' 11 penalties, eight were against the offense.

But it was by far the Ravens' best offensive performance of the year. It wasn't spectacular, but quarterback Anthony Wright managed the game reasonably well. For the most part, the Ravens were balanced.

And for the first time this season, they used one of their top receivers as a weapon instead of a pass blocker. Maybe it was a coming-out party for Heap, or maybe the Browns are just a bad football team.

But at least Heap was a factor again.


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