NEW ORLEANS — — When Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome considers whether to bring back veteran wide receiver Anquan Boldin and his $6 million salary for another season, maybe he should rewind the game film of the Ravens' 28-13 win over New England in the AFC championship game two weeks ago.
Early in the fourth quarter, quarterback Joe Flacco's 3-yard pass attempt into the end zone was so high that only LeBron James or Boldin could catch it. Boldin hauled it in with two Patriots surrounding him, and afterwards slammed Patriots cornerback Devin McCourty to the ground with one arm, and then flexed with the other.
That was the beginning of the end of the Patriots.
There was speculation earlier this season that the Ravens needed to cut Boldin at the end to free up some salary cap money, but maybe they just might want to restructure his deal.
They can't get rid of Boldin now. He is too valuable. He is a mentor and an old, crusty veteran. And he is money. In this post season, the Ravens haven't had a more productive offensive player than Boldin, and there are no apologies to Joe Flacco, Torrey Smith, Ray Rice or Dennis Pitta.
"Very physical wide receiver," said San Francisco Pro Bowl safety Donte Whitner. "He is very determined to bring his team to the championship. Just going up, catching the football, running past people on third [down] going after the catch and being fearless. We are going to have our hands full. We always need to know where he is at all times."
Boldin's run through the post season has been extraordinary. In three games, he has 16 catches for 276 yards and three touchdowns. That's a 17.3 average for a so-called possession receiver.
While not possessing great speed, Boldin has good athletic ability, including an incredible vertical leap. His powerfully built, 6-foot-1 and 220-pound body allows him to box out smaller cornerbacks, and there might not be a stronger pair of hands in the NFL.
San Francisco is concerned about Smith because of his speed, but the 49ers are worried about Boldin's versatility and consistency.
"Good offenses have a deep threat," Whitner said. "They have a third-down possession receiver. Boldin, he is doing everything right now. He is catching the deep balls. He is good in the red zone. He is good on thirddown. The run after the catch, he is one of the best in the National Football League."
Boldin might have turned up his game in the post season because at age 32 there won't be many more chances to win a title. He was no slouch in the regular season with 65 catches for 921 yards and four touchdowns, but his only other opportunity to win a Super Bowl ring came in 2009 when Arizona lost to Pittsburgh on a last-second touchdown pass.
Boldin will never forget that game.
"It's definitely a letdown," said Boldin of losing the Super Bowl three years ago. "You feel disappointed. Once you lose, they're roping off the field, herding the losing team to the locker room and letting the winning team celebrate. You don't want that feeling, going back into the locker room knowing that you were this close and didn't come through.
"It's definitely a sense of urgency in the postseason. I think anybody who has ever played in the post season knows it's either win or go home, and nobody wants to go home. I think for myself, I've always felt that sense of urgency to get it done. It took me five years just to get to the playoffs, so I know myself playoffs aren't guaranteed. You never know if or when you're going to get back, so you have to make the most of it."
We've seen a different a Boldin in New Orleans. During the regular season in Baltimore, he was grouchy and seldom smiled. He seemed to hate interviews and usually answered questions with one-word answers. He appeared isolated from teammates at times, except for fellow receivers.
Boldin has been gracious and he has smiled a lot here. While other players have appeared tense in preparation for Sunday's game, Boldin seems loose and eager. On game day, everybody knows what they will get.
He is one tough dude.
"He does so many things for us. I have a friend that coaches in the NBA and he texted me wanting to know how big Anquan is," said Ravens offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell. "His text alluded to the fact that he's a lot bigger than he really is. I said, 'He plays like that, he plays big.' That's how he shows up every single day and every single game. He's quite an imposing figure once he gets rolling."
Boldin is someone the Ravens can't take for granted. They have some decent, young talented receivers on the roster like Tandon Doss, Deonte Thompson, David Reed and Jacoby Jones, but no one like Boldin.
He is special.
"One of the things that he brings is he sets a tone for our entire offense," Caldwell said. "He's not only very effective in terms of being tough and rugged and going over the middle and catching the ball in tough situations, but also his blocking as well. He does a tremendous job just of getting physical on the field. He's a great blocker and a highly skilled guy that gives you everything he's got in terms of his effort. Also, as physically tough as he is, he's also tough mentally. You can't shake him, you can't discourage him."
And the Ravens can't afford to lose him.