Mason well-received in 1st Ravens season


Veteran sets franchise mark for catches

Clayton has quiet debut as punt returner


Ravens wide receiver Derrick Mason turned a productive first season with his new team into a record-setting one in last night's 30-23 win over the Minnesota Vikings.

Mason caught an 11-yard throw by Kyle Boller on the Ravens' third play from scrimmage, setting a franchise single-season record with his 77th catch. Mason surpassed Michael Jackson, who caught 76 passes for 1,201 yards in the Ravens' inaugural season in 1996.

Jackson's receiving total - also a record - is safe, but Mason did top 1,000 yards, the sixth time that feat has happened in franchise history.

It is the first time a receiver has topped 1,000 yards since Qadry Ismail in 2001.

"It feels good considering what we've been through this season," Mason said. "It's been a lot of downs, but we're finally getting some ups."

Mason had as much to do with that as anyone. His 39-yard touchdown reception, in which he turned cornerback Brian Williams around in the fourth quarter, gave the Ravens their first lead of the night, 24-20.

"It just shows how much confidence your quarterback has in you, even though teams gear toward you a little bit, that you're still going to make the play," said Mason, who finished with nine catches for 103 yards.

Tight end Todd Heap, who caught a 6-yard pass from Boller for a touchdown to cap off the Ravens' opening drive, also achieved a personal best.

The touchdown was Heap's seventh of the season, a career best.

Return of Clayton

With B.J. Sams out because of a knee injury, Mark Clayton got his first experience as the punt returner. It was far from memorable.

Clayton called for a fair catch on his first attempt, then watched Vikings punter Chris Kluwe shank a kick out of bounds on his second chance in the first half.

Sams' 11.5 return average was third in the NFL heading into the weekend.

Clayton, who averaged 14.4 yards a return his senior season at Oklahoma, had one other fair catch.

"I just came in and told myself that I was going to make sure I was ready," said Clayton, who had a 47-yard touchdown reception.

Chester Taylor handled the kickoffs and fumbled away the opening one to start the second half. Taylor averaged 16.8 yards on five returns.

Happy memories

Ravens coach Brian Billick and Minnesota's Mike Tice have had their fair share of friendly run-ins working together on the Vikings' staff (1996-1998) and even a few as player-coach.

Billick broke into the NFL as tight ends coach for the Vikings in 1992, where he worked with Tice, a backup at the time.

"That was kind of a joke," Tice said. "I was 33 or 34, Steve [Jordan] was 31, and here was an enthusiastic rookie coach who was trying to get us to do cone drills at age 35. We looked at him one day and said, `Are you kidding us? Do you want us to make it to the game on Sunday?' "

Said Billick: "[Tice] and Steve Jordan, you talk about having to start out in the league as a rookie coach with those two; my plea to them was, `Look guys, just act like you're learning something from me so I can keep my job.' "

T. Taylor's back

Vikings receiver Travis Taylor faced the team that made him a first-round pick in the 2000 draft, then let him leave during free agency with little resistance.

Taylor's career never lived up to his draft billing, disappearing within the offense often while showing suspect hands. Apparently, those problems have been remedied to a degree with the Vikings.

He finished with three catches for 40 yards, including a 13-yard touchdown on the opening possession of the game.

"We think he has been consistent," Tice said. "The biggest thing is that he has been a very good blocker for us. He has played all three positions, he has been consistent catching the football, he has made some plays for us."

Thomas steps in

Ravens linebacker Adalius Thomas, much as he has done throughout this season, came up big when his team needed him most.

Thomas sacked Vikings quarterback Brad Johnson, trailing him 10 yards across the field and forcing a fumble with less than two minutes left in the game and the Ravens leading 27-20.

Defensive end Tony Weaver recovered the ball at the Vikings' 10, setting up a field goal by Matt Stover that sealed the game.

"It was great coverage because the guy had to hold the ball a long time," Thomas said. "The guy was out of the pocket, and I just ran as hard and fast as I could to get to him before he threw it."

End zone

Aaron Elling, Patrick Johnson, Brian St. Pierre, Mike Smith, Zac Woodfin, Dan Wilcox and Clarence Moore were the Ravens' inactive players. ... The Ravens did a video tribute at the end of the third quarter to longtime Oriole Elrod Hendricks, who died last week. ... Left guard Edwin Mulitalo left the game apparently groggy in the third quarter, but was able to return.

Read Brent Jones' Ravens blog at

Next game--Ravens@Browns, Sunday, 1 p.m.--TV: Ch. 13--Radio: 1300 AM, 102.7 FM

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