Clayton savors happy ending

Receiver had two big drops before making catch of the day

Ravens Gameday

Ravens 16 Texans 15

December 05, 2005|By BRENT JONES | BRENT JONES,SUN REPORTER

Cornerbacks love to spout off with the saying, "It's not how you start; it's how you finish," but Ravens receiver Mark Clayton may want to borrow that one after his down-and-up afternoon in the Ravens' 16-15 win over the Houston Texans.

Clayton dropped two potential 40-yard passes before recovering to make the play of the day in the final minute, taking a 10-yard pass 25 more yards to the Texans' 10-yard line to set up Matt Stover's winning field goal.

It was Clayton's most significant contribution this season and the first real validation of his first-round draft status.

"It was wide-open," Clayton said. "Kyle [Boller] made a great throw, and I was able to make a play on the ball and run after the catch."

The only question was whether Clayton could make it to the sideline in time. Houston brought an all-out blitz, hoping to sack Boller and see the time run out. The play began from the Texans' 45 with 20 seconds left.

Boller, recognizing that the Texans were crowding the line, anticipated the blitz and hit Clayton in stride. With time running down, Clayton eluded safety C.C. Brown, headed upfield and cut toward the sideline.

Clayton was tackled out of bounds at the 10, but Derrick Mason was penalized for a block in the back, and the Ravens had to try the field goal from 38 yards rather than 28.

Asked what was going through his mind with the clock running down and his running in the middle of the field, Clayton said, "Get to the end zone.

"I was going to score. The path I took, it made sure if I didn't get there, I was going to get out of bounds."

Of course, the Texans' defensive call deserves an assist. The Ravens sent three players out in the pass pattern, and all had one-on-one coverage.

"We made a decision to go after them, and we weren't going to sit back and be passive, and they made the play," Texans coach Dom Capers said.

Clayton finished with seven catches for 86 yards, both career highs. But if not for the final catch, Clayton's game may have been remembered more for the costly drops, the first of which hit him in the hands 45 yards down the field in the first quarter.

The play would have converted a first-and-25 and set the Ravens up inside the Texans' 40. His second drop came early in the fourth quarter, but the pass was thrown into double coverage.

"You're only going to know, and him learning that, by being in those situations and not making the big plays, but then coming back and making a big play," coach Brian Billick said. "You actually couldn't script it any better from that standpoint."

Such a momentum shift in one game will do wonders for Clayton, according to fellow starting receiver Mason.

"I think it boosts your confidence, not just tonight but for the rest of the season, knowing that I made that big catch," Mason said. "I helped my team win a game. Now that I've done that, I can go out and feel comfortable doing it again. If the opportunity presents itself, I know I've done it."

Before yesterday, it would have been hard to envision the Ravens marching 67 yards on eight plays in just over a minute without a big catch coming from Mason. But Clayton proved to be the go-to guy, making an 11-yard reception two plays before he essentially won the game for his team.

"I can't tell you how many thousands of times we've run that play," Clayton said. "To see it actually work for us was great because it was based on hard work."

brent.jones@baltsun.com

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