J. Mcclain Turns Around Bad Night In A Hurry

August 25, 2009|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,ken.murray@baltsun.com

One of the popular phrases among reserves on the Ravens' vaunted defense is, "Don't be the weak link."

Jameel McClain, a second-year linebacker, was the weak link one moment Monday night against the New York Jets and a defensive hero the next.

McClain was badly out of position on a 19-yard touchdown pass from Mark Sanchez to Leon Washington with 5:50 left in the first half.

On the sideline, middle linebacker Ray Lewis told McClain to get over the play quickly.

Some five minutes later, McClain intercepted Sanchez's replacement, Kellen Clemens, and ran 16 yards untouched to the end zone for a touchdown.

"That's how you get over the last play," Lewis told McClain as he came to the sideline.

Clemens was hit on the interception by defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, who also returned an interception of Sanchez for a first-quarter touchdown.

McClain slipped inside Clemens' intended target, Brad Smith, to make the catch.

"It was a good job by Haloti getting pressure and me being in the right place at the right time," McClain said.

The interception atoned for his mistake against the fleet-footed Washington. Even before the snap, McClain appeared to be out of position. Sanchez found Washington at the goal line with McClain in pursuit.

"It was my fault," McClain said. "I was supposed to be there."

McClain, 24, is ostensibly battling Tavares Gooden for the inside linebacker position vacated by Bart Scott. Gooden sacked Sanchez in the series that ultimately led to the Jets' touchdown. Gooden had four tackles in the first half. McClain had five and finished the game with a team-high eight, including six solo stops.

"We did make the big plays on defense with Haloti and McClain," coach John Harbaugh said. "It was good to see McClain come back and make the big play after giving up the touchdown and getting caught in a kickoff coverage."

McClain, who played at Syracuse, was the only undrafted free agent to make the Ravens' roster a year ago, and slowly worked his way onto the field at outside linebacker.

On his first defensive play last season, he sacked Oakland quarterback JaMarcus Russell for a safety. He later blocked a punt for his second safety, a franchise record.

Rex Ryan, then the defensive coordinator, gave McClain more time on the defense down the stretch, although McClain continued to be a key special teams contributor (he was third on the team with 17 special teams tackles).

Under new coordinator Greg Mattison, McClain was moved inside behind Lewis. In the second half Monday night McClain moved outside and got three more tackles.

McClain made no presumptions despite what seemed a solid effort.

"I'll see when I watch the film," he said. "There's always so many little plays I can improve on, like the touchdown [allowed]."

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