There are all sorts of reasons the game the Ravens' secondary played last week against the Philadelphia Eagles will go down as one of the wondrous achievements of this surprising season. No reason, however, looms larger than the fact that it was pulled off by a defensive backfield in which exactly one player has started every game.
It helped that the one player was Ed Reed - then again, he was the one whose season was most in doubt as opening day approached because of a serious nerve problem in his neck. Overall, it did not look like a secondary in which starters had been laid low by knee surgery (Chris McAlister), neck surgery (not Reed, but Samari Rolle) and an even more serious neck injury (Dawan Landry).
Collectively, the unit deserved every bit of praise John Harbaugh heaped it last week - and it deserves as much attention as the other positions at which the Ravens have overcome injury, such as offensive line and quarterback. The defensive backs deserve every fraction of concern today's opponent, the Cincinnati Bengals, can direct toward them, even with T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Chad Ocho Cinco waiting for them.
They might even deserve more appreciation than they give themselves. Reed said last week that he thought intercepting the Eagles' quarterbacks four times - and driving Andy Reid to bench Donovan McNabb at halftime - did not automatically make that the secondary's best game this season.
"I don't think interceptions make one particular game our best game, because we've had interceptions," Reed said. "I would think [it would be] when we're having less mental mistakes, great communication - great communication with guys that are flying around, doing things that they're supposed to do - and we get a shutout. That's more like a good game for the secondary."
Coincidentally, that's what the Ravens did against the Eagles, which Harbaugh also pointed out. That's part of the miracle, how they managed that under the circumstances. Fabian Washington, Frank Walker and Jim Leonhard are new to the team, but they all stepped in and stepped up in various ways after McAlister was sidelined for good, Rolle missed six games and Landry went out in the second game. Against the Eagles, Washington had the most acrobatic pick and Rolle got his second interception in three games since his return.
Not every game has gone quite that smoothly, but the secondary has gone above and beyond just holding things together.
"Nobody wants to be the guy who lets the other guys down," Leonhard said. "We're all doing a good job just taking care of our own jobs. Nobody feels like they have to pick up the slack for anybody else."
It has been a stunning blend of smart play, quick cohesion, strong coaching and intelligent player signings. General manager Ozzie Newsome and Co. knew the obvious: After last season, secondary depth was a priority. The moves to fix it have paid off. It also helps that the line and linebackers have been stellar, making things easier for the last line of defense.
Of course, the secondary might have just had a good run of luck against a reeling Eagles offense. Except that the same offense scored 48 points four nights later, and McNabb threw four touchdown passes and no interceptions.
Still, everyone should have known, long before Thanksgiving night, that the Ravens' secondary, banged-up but not broken, was worth appreciating.
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* Could next weekend be better? On Saturday, Army-Navy football and Morgan-Coppin and Towson-Hofstra basketball; on Sunday, Maryland basketball in the BB&T Classic and Ravens-Redskins.
* OK, it could have been better. Maryland will be a spectator in the Atlantic Coast Conference football championship game.
* Give Jimmy Patsos credit for trying something different. Seriously, did anyone think Davidson could have beaten Loyola or anyone else that badly without Stephen Curry scoring a point?
* By the way, now that the Redskins and Steelers games have been shifted to better time slots, that we-don't-get-no-respect card is getting harder to play, isn't it?