Clayton quickly finds role

2005 1st-rounder has become team's top big-play threat

Ravens 20 Chiefs 10

Ravens Gameday

December 11, 2006|By Edward Lee | Edward Lee,Sun reporter

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The 87-yard catch-and-run touchdown strike from quarterback Steve McNair to wide receiver Mark Clayton stamped the Ravens' 20-10 win against the Kansas City Chiefs here yesterday.

The same play also might have stamped Clayton's ticket to becoming the kind of wide receiver the Ravens envisioned when they invested the 22nd overall pick in the 2005 draft on him.

For the fourth time this season, Clayton paced the Ravens' passing game, totaling 112 yards on five catches. Clayton and fellow wide receiver Derrick Mason have led the Ravens in receiving yards in four games each this year.

Clayton has 57 catches this year, two behind Mason and Todd Heap for the team lead. Heap leads the team with six touchdown receptions, two more than Clayton. But Clayton's 763 receiving yards are a team high.

"By bringing me in, I figure I had to come in and make plays for the organization," Clayton said. "So just being able to prepare and be ready when the time comes, it feels right."

Clayton has been labeled the team's top playmaker with his blazing speed and potential to turn short catches into big gains. That reputation might have played a role in yesterday's touchdown reception.

Several times earlier in the game, the Ravens called a play in which Clayton ran a 15-yard curl route. The Ravens called the same play on second-and-nine from their own 13-yard line with 6:38 remaining in the third quarter.

But instead of curling back toward McNair, Clayton faked the route and turned upfield. Two Chiefs defensive backs, anticipating the curl, bit on the fake.

With Clayton splitting the two defenders, McNair lofted the ball downfield and into Clayton's hands, and Clayton raced the remaining 45 yards into the end zone untouched.

"Offensively, we kind of saw that they were sitting on routes," Clayton said. "So we thought it would be good to get a double move in, and that's what it was. Steve rolled out and made a heck of a play."

For McNair, his biggest concern was putting too much on the throw, which was officially the longest touchdown pass of his career. "When you've got a guy like that wide-open, you pray from the time that it leaves your hand until it gets to him that you don't overthrow," he said. "Mark did a great job of running under the catch."

The touchdown extended the Ravens' lead to 13-0 with a little bit more than one quarter to play, and seemingly doomed Kansas City to having to win its final three games to have any shot at the playoffs.

"It was a miscommunication between the safety and the corner," Chiefs coach Herman Edwards said. "I know what happened. It wasn't played correctly."

Clayton, who set a Ravens rookie record with 44 receptions for 471 yards last season, has put aside any thought of a sophomore slump. But for Clayton, personal success is not a priority.

"To me, it's just doing whatever they need," he said. "Whenever they call on me, I want to be prepared and ready to make a play for this organization."

edward.lee@baltsun.com

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