Re-injured Mason still shoulders a heavy load

December 21, 2008|By DAVID STEELE | DAVID STEELE,david.steele@baltsun.com

Irving, Texas - Most days, the most valuable arm on the Ravens belongs to Joe Flacco. Last night it belonged to Derrick Mason, mainly because that's about all he had to work with.

So when you shake Mason's hand and congratulate him - for helping beat the Dallas Cowboys, 33-24, for leading the Ravens to a 10th win, for keeping their playoff hopes alive in the regular season's final week - shake that right hand, because the left has to still be hurting, badly.

How he managed to keep playing beyond that moment in the first quarter when he was flailing his legs in pain as he lay face down on the turf wasn't immediately clear. All that was known was that after being helped off the field with his previously separated left shoulder re-injured and being held up for support, Mason kept coming back. Coming back, making plays to energize the Ravens' offense, going out again, coming back, making a play, going out.

It might have been the most impressive six-catch, 66-yard, one-touchdown performance of his long career. And the Ravens needed every one of those catches, the way they had to hang on at the end to win and make next week truly mean something.

"It's a two-game season for us. It's all hands on deck," Mason said. "Everybody's got to play. That's how we are."

Flacco, under fire most of the night, largely responsible for the Cowboys' first points after he fumbled inside his 5-yard line on the Ravens' first possession, kept trusting Mason and his one good arm, and Mason kept repaying him.

None of his catches was as big as the one near the end of the third quarter, the touchdown reception that gave the Ravens a 16-7 lead that seemed even bigger. He maneuvered his way to the left edge of the end zone, and Flacco, pressured to his right, saw him and whistled a throw across the field and past all the defenders and into Mason's hands as he fell just inbounds.

"When you have a quarterback like that, you thank him, because he puts it only in places where I can catch it," Mason said.

"Nah, he's completely lying," said Flacco, who called Mason a "warrior." "He's just trying to be nice."

Mason was holding that left arm gingerly that whole time, and when he did a little dance behind the end line and then greeted his delirious teammates, he cradled that arm away again.

With 2:51 left in the third quarter, the Ravens had gradually wrenched momentum their way - and it had been a long trip, after that early fumble by Flacco. The Ravens, and Flacco in particular, had to grab themselves after that and hold themselves together. Seeing a guy do that, hold a joint in place when the joint didn't want to stay in place, had to have helped.

At the time he first returned - five plays later, on that very drive, which ended in a field goal - it wasn't obvious that the tide was turning. But the Ravens had shown that the circumstances - the playoff implications and the celebration of the last game in Texas Stadium - and the bad start weren't going to rattle them.

And there were already signs that the Cowboys were going to shrivel under the glare. They woke up twice from then on, when they drove to a field goal after Mason's touchdown, and when they marched to close it to 19-17 with less than four minutes left.

Otherwise, the Cowboys shamed themselves on both sides of the ball, sucked the air out of their own stadium farewell and turned their fans against them. They all share the blame, too, as tempting as it is to pin it on Tony Romo, as horrendous as he was, or Terrell "Tyrannosaurus rex" Owens and his short arms.

Along the way, as the Cowboys melted down, Mason kept making catches to make gains out of nothing, to convert third downs, to move the markers.

With one good arm, which was good enough to present his team with a win-or-go-home season finale.

Listen to David Steele on Fridays at 9 a.m. on WNST (1570 AM).

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