On a team building an identity through resiliency, Jarret Johnson stands out

Linebacker set to play in his franchise-record 112th straight game Sunday

December 23, 2010|By Ken Murray, The Baltimore Sun

The ability to absorb punishment, overcome adversity and still perform comes with the job description of every NFL player. But for the elite teams and some unique players, that ability is what sets them apart.

The Ravens and Jarret Johnson are a great case in point.

Few teams in the NFL are as resilient as the Ravens this season. They have not been out of any game they played and have not lost back-to-back games, working through their share of bad breaks, misplays and breakdowns.

Few players are as resilient as Johnson has been over the past eight years. He's played in 111 consecutive games at linebacker for the Ravens and played through significant injuries.

December, Johnson said this week, is when the ability to play through pain and adversity counts most.

"There is a lot of resiliency at the end of the season because it doesn't matter if you're leading the division or totally out of it, this is the tough part of the year," he said. "Everybody's nicked up, everybody's tired. Once you get to game 13, 14, everybody's pretty worn out. It takes a lot of resilience just to make it through the season."

Johnson will break Peter Boulware's franchise record when he plays in his 112th consecutive game Sunday in Cleveland. It is a fitting record for a player known more for being relentless than flashy.

On a bigger scale, though, Johnson is the face of resilience on a team that resounds with grit and determination. The Ravens under coach John Harbaugh have steadily made strides in playing at the same level week after week, avoiding the occasional blowout losses that afflict almost all NFL teams.

The Ravens' four losses this season have come by 5, 3, 5 and 3 points. They've had bad games — but no game they weren't in position to win in the fourth quarter.

No other AFC contender can match that level of consistency. The New England Patriots lost by 20 points to the Browns. The New York Jets lost to the Patriots by 42. The Steelers lost to the Patriots by 13. The San Diego Chargers lost to Oakland by 15. The Indianapolis Colts lost to the Chargers by 22.

In the NFC, the Atlanta Falcons lost by two touchdowns to the Philadelphia Eagles. The Eagles lost by 18 to the Tennessee Titans. The New York Giants lost to the Colts by 24. The New Orleans Saints lost to the Browns by 13. Only the Green Bay Packers have been in every game like the Ravens, losing by three points four times, and losing by no more than four in any game.

Harbaugh's Ravens had three-game losing streaks in each of his first two years. They haven't lost two in a row this season.

Where does such resiliency spring from?

"It's a bunch of guys that want to win, that love winning, that pride themselves on going out there and playing good football, that really and truly care about what they're doing," said wide receiver Derrick Mason, whose own resilience has resulted in 94 consecutive games played with the Ravens and 136 overall in the NFL.

"So when we get in situations where we're down or lost a game, we've always found a way to bounce back when everybody else is kind of on us or counting us out."

Mason said that attitude starts with linebacker Ray Lewis and filters through the locker room, each player picking up the mantle to do his share. It's a feeling of unity that right tackle Marshal Yanda embraced after the Ravens struggled to beat the Houston Texans in Week 14 and got ready to play the Saints last Sunday.

"It's that non-stop, never-having-doubt about what we're trying to do as a football team," Yanda said. "And sometimes no matter how bad it looks — sometimes we're not doing things right — we have the resiliency to keep working and keep focusing on what we have to get done.

"Just like last week. We all came in this building and we all knew what we wanted to do and get better at. … It's a long season and you've got to keep working. If you don't, by the third quarter, the fourth quarter of the season, the teams that are on the fence are probably torn apart by then and going downhill. There was a lot of heat on us to win that game last week and I would say it was a huge game for us."

Harbaugh has endorsed the approach that every week requires the same kind of preparation and every game requires the same effort, regardless of the opponent. The Ravens can clinch a playoff berth with a win over the Browns, but it is simply the next step in the long path to the postseason.

"I don't think we have been scoreboard watching lately," Harbaugh said. "We've been focused on every single week. We've had a lot at stake every single week, and that's no less this week. Obviously, you get to the point when finally you can clinch that playoff berth. That's right there in your hands and it's very tangible. It's a lot of motivation."

Motivated, determined, resilient, the Ravens have grown into a family, running back Ray Rice said. And everybody is heard.

"We always talk about what it's like to be a Raven and it's a certain mentality that you've got to have," Rice said. "I think the resiliency comes from guys knowing that when another man speaks on this team, everybody responds. Whether it's the head coach or another player, when something is being said, nobody is really jawing back at each other. It's more like it's a family problem. We get it fixed and we go out there and we play the game."

The Ravens' resiliency also has to do with perspective. Players look around the locker room at the 14 Pro Bowl veterans — tying the Jets for league-high — and come to the conclusion this team has the ability to win a Super Bowl.

"We all understand the potential we have," Johnson said. "We all understand how talented this team is, and what we can accomplish … so you don't want to lay down."

ken.murray@baltsun.com

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