In a matter of minutes, Jarret Johnson went from goat to hero.
The linebacker atoned for a costly penalty by sacking Kansas City's Brodie Croyle during a late possession by the Chiefs; the play contributed to the Ravens' 38-24 victory at M&T Bank Stadium in the season opener for both teams.
After quarterback Joe Flacco connected with wide receiver Mark Clayton on a 31-yard touchdown strike with 2:06 left in the fourth quarter to give the Ravens a 31-24 lead, Johnson sacked and stripped Croyle on the first play of Kansas City's ensuing possession.
Although officials ruled that Croyle was down by contact, the Chiefs were in a deep hole and their series ended three plays later when defensive end Trevor Pryce also sacked and stripped Croyle on fourth down.
"It felt pretty good," said Johnson, who led the defense with a career-high two sacks and made three tackles. He also played at Alabama with Croyle. "It's kind of weird. I'm very good friends with his parents, and I know they were sitting in the stands. They're probably not going to be real happy about the personal foul."
That roughing-the-passer penalty nearly tainted Johnson's performance. On second-and-2 from Kansas City's 28, Croyle threw an incomplete pass. But Johnson was whistled for a blow to the head while trying to sack Croyle. Five plays later, Croyle tossed a 10-yard touchdown pass to tight end Sean Ryan that tied the score at 24 with 5:21 left in the game.
Johnson said he talked to referee Gene Steratore during a television timeout and understood his reasoning.
"That's the way it is, and we have to be cautionary as defenders because if you come close, you're going to get a penalty," Johnson said. "It's not wrong, and it's not bad. It's just the way it is. It [stinks] we got the penalty and it opened up the drive and they scored, but we came back and played hard."
Clayton's return was well worth the wait.
After missing all four preseason games with a strained left hamstring, the wide receiver marked his journey back by catching five passes for a team-best 77 yards, including the game-winning touchdown.
The doctors "told me, 'It may be like six weeks, I don't think you're going to make it to the first game,' " Clayton said of the initial recovery process. "... I wasn't worried about it at all. I knew I'd be back in time."
Linebacker Tavares Gooden said initial tests show that he sprained his right knee and did not tear any ligaments.
Gooden said someone rolled onto his knee while blocking on a kick return midway through the third quarter. X-rays were negative, and he rode a stationary bike on the sideline in an effort to keep the knee loose for a possible return.
"I was trying to go back out and play, but we saw that we pretty much had the game wrapped up and felt like we could win. So we decided to get me back right," Gooden said, adding that he intends to play next Sunday against the San Diego Chargers. "I'm good. I was trying to play again, so we know I can play."
The only other injury concern was safety Tom Zbikowski, who suffered a concussion in the first half. Although he did not return, the injury is not considered serious.
Running in place
Larry Johnson was the last running back to gain 100 yards on the Ravens, and that didn't change Sunday.
Johnson, who posted 120 yards on Dec. 10, 2006, carried the ball 11 times for just 20 yards, and the Chiefs gained just 29 yards on the ground.
"For our defense, that's the No. 1 goal," said defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, whose unit has not allowed a 100-yard rusher in the past 36 contests. "Then we can get to the passer. It was great that we could keep Larry Johnson and [Jamaal Charles] contained and make them a one-dimensional offense."
Willis McGahee's 3-yard touchdown reception in the first quarter was the veteran running back's second career score through the air.
McGahee said he hopes the offense will use him more in the passing attack.
"I always knew I could catch the ball out of the backfield, but I never had the opportunity," he said. "I had the opportunity to do it this game, and I just took advantage of it."
Playing it safe, safer, safest
Coach John Harbaugh was leaving nothing to chance.
Instead of asking Steve Hauschka to kick a field goal that might have given the Ravens a 10-point lead, Harbaugh decided to go for six points on fourth-and-goal from the 1 with less than a minute left in the game.
"We're fourth-and-6-inches - I think we have a better chance of making the touchdown than we do of something bad happening on the field goal," Harbaugh said of his decision, which resulted in a 1-yard plunge by McGahee. "They could actually block the kick and score a touchdown, worst-case scenario. So you weigh all that stuff out and you decide."